We live in an age of contradictory messages regarding
creativity. On the one hand, (Western) society as a whole is
promoting, through education and media, a view that everyone is
creative, or at least has the potential to act creatively. On the
other hand, (high) creativity is considered to require effort,
talent, special mental abilities, a kind of 'gift' some are
generously endowed with while others can only struggle to 'receive'
(or give?). Despite being exposed to such contradictory messages,
one thing is clear for all - employers, educators, parents, your
friends and colleagues perhaps - and that is: being creative is one
of the highest, most valuable qualities to have in today's world.
You need only to open the TV or read a newspaper (focus on job ads)
to realise this.
If creativity is indeed a 'blessing' for both individuals and
society can be the topic of another discussion. Sufficient to say
that some definitions of creativity that emphasise its
revolutionary forms, based on breaking with 'what is there' (and
'whoever' is there), can only put pressure equally on the person
who is invited to disobey almost indiscriminately, and society,
expected to resist disobedience and be driven by conformism
The question remains of how we are to navigate different, often
opposing, discourses about creativity. If we take to heart the
assumption that everyone (and thus, you, dear reader) is creative,
then how is it that we (you) are not celebrated more often for this
creativity? Why are our everyday life actions and products not
recognised as creative? Why don't other people hurry to place
children's drawings in museums or include our delicious new pizza
recipe into an upcoming cookbook? The conclusion is plain to see:
we are all creative, but some are more 'gifted' or talented than
others and since these truly special individuals are quite rare,
the vast majority of us should just accept our fate and cultivate
our other abilities.
Here we enter the realm of another creativity discourse -
creativity as a gift, as a personal quality you are either born
with or have to work hard to obtain (if at all possible). This
vision can be contested on several grounds. First of all,
creativity is not an inborn property, nor does it come about after
any kind of 'work'; to develop one's creative potential means to
accumulate knowledge in a flexible manner and engage in guided,
reflective forms of practice. This leads to a second critique:
there is no universal type of creativity that can be equally
applied to all areas of activity; on the contrary, creativity is
largely domain-specific and this means at best that people come to
acquire not one but more 'gifts' throughout their life. Finally,
these gifts are not personal but inter-personal. It is not a
property of the individual or object that makes him/her/it creative
- creativity means generating novelty in relation to other people
who are part and parcel of the creation process and the evaluation
of its outcome(s).
So what to make of today's competing ideologies of creativity?
Who is creative and how? Is creativity widely or scarcely
distributed? Most of all: am I creative? To reflect on creativity
(personal and social) faces us with the challenge of deciding on
what position to adopt in this fundamental debate. And this
position is not to be taken lightly as it is sure to affect how we
define, measure, appreciate, and deal with creative people,
including our own creativity. The other option is to simply ignore
the questions above altogether and, like most people, rely on
different creativity discourses in a contextual manner, depending
on who is to be considered, when and why. Interestingly,
sidestepping the 'conceptual' creativity challenge does not however
excuse us from being confronted with it every day, at a 'practical'
level, whether we think of ourselves as creative or not.