This morning I want to consider the definition of “creativity.” Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking here about how to facilitate creativity, through routines and deadlines, but what is “creativity” anyway? How do we know we are being creative vs. just filling time? I believe there are a few things that have to be in place to make an activity fit the “creative” name.
First off, creativity involves transforming something. Taking materials, ideas, whatever you’ve seen or learned elsewhere, and then putting something together in new ways.
I don’t believe being creative is “making something out of nothing,” but making something new out of what already existed before in pieces and parts. Whether that new thing is a painting or a meal or a novel, you can see that the pieces that make up the new thing — the paints, the ingredients, the words — existed before. The artist then put them together in a new way. This transformation is the first element of creativity, but it’s not the only element.
The next, and I believe vital, element of creativity is engagement and challenge. You have to be solving a new problem in order for creativity to be involved. You have to be actively thinking, working, and resolving as you move through the process. This doesn’t mean you have to be solving a new problem for humanity, but solving a problem that is new to you. A problem that engages your creativity.
If you are making something you’ve made before, time and time again, with no new element of challenge involved — that’s not creative. That’s following a recipe. “Take Thing X, combine it with Thing Y using process steps A, B, C.” If you can follow the steps to get a predictable outcome without problems along the way, that’s manufacturing. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, because accomplishing a finished piece involves skill and expertise, but it also doesn’t mean it’s creative. Creativity requires that there is some new challenge involved in the process of making something.
It’s the challenge which keeps me learning and moving forward. It keeps me trying new things, seeking new ideas to add to the mix. It also helps explain why being merely productive is not enough for me creatively. Why I don’t stay in one place for too long with my art or my business or even my corporate job. Because once I’ve got something all figured out, once the process is in place and predictable, it not as fun anymore. It’s time to face new challenges, solve new problems, create new things.
In my art right now, I have lots of problems to solve. I still have so much to learn about mobile photography. I’m facing new challenges every day, in every piece I create. The image I’m sharing today is no exception. The tools are not always there or the way to achieve my vision is not straight forward. That’s perfect.
Combining existing elements in ways that require overcoming challenges, that’s what makes up “creativity” to me.