What Is Creativity?

Psychologists have been trying to figure out us creative types forever. Are they wasting their time?

Psychologists have been trying to figure out us creative types forever. Are they wasting their time?

Asking what is creativity is like asking how big the is the sky.

It’s a bit of a non-question.

Some would say creativity is the degree of inventiveness we have, and I wouldn’t disagree.

However, that doesn’t quite hit it for me, creativity is a little more subtle and more complex than that.

Some would say that creativity is a component of overall intelligence. Although that’s reasonable it’s still not quite right because then we need to define intelligence which is another inscrutable entity.

The promotion of creativity has become very trendy in recent times.

Psychologists study it, colleges profess to teach it, corporates embrace it cynically under ulterior motivation, in my opinion.

People strive to find it in themselves, and whilst all this pursuit of creativity goes on we seem to miss the very essence of it.

Creativity is far too broad an aspect of intelligence to be defined completely.

However, I will attempt to offer some explanation from a singular perspective.

What Constitutes Intelligence?

Let’s first take a look at the background to intelligence and how we began to measure it.

Some of the first tests devised were that by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1905 upon request of the French Government.

Alfred Binet

Around this time France had conducted a radical overhaul of its education system. For the first time French children, regardless of social class, were entitled to a basic education.

They soon realised that weaker children needed help.

So educators decided that rather than teachers or parents deciding who was weak or strong, they would employ a universal means of assessment.

Binet and Simon designed their test to measure children’s aptitude for learning rather than knowledge already gathered.

They called this the child’s “natural intelligence”.

The “natural intelligence” test was indeed a step forward, but was it a true test of intelligence?

What about creativity, motivation, social environment, parental love and affection, do they not influence intelligence?

The bottom line is, like creativity, intelligence is a hypothetical property. It only ‘appears’ to be related to behaviour and performance.

Intelligence tests do not measure intelligence like a scales measures weight.

It is a lot more complex than that.

Creativity is the ability to generate ideas or alternatives that may be useful in solving problems, communicating and entertaining ourselves” — Franken 1998

Nurturing The Creative Environment

The basis for our understanding of human intelligence then, came about through education.

Subjects such as engineering, mathematics, languages, history, and religion were the basis upon which a child’s intelligence was measured.

Psychologists now consider creativity an element of what is termed ‘soft intelligence’. Back in the day, it wasn’t given very much air time in respect to intelligence at all.

As technology advances and the decline of jobs in engineering and healthcare showing a distinct trend, soft intelligence is being considered more seriously.

That’s a good thing in one sense, in so far as educators and legislators are considering the broader needs of children.

However, creativity must be allowed to develop naturally rather than moulded to facilitate the needs of industry.

Right now there are probably thousands of business management courses and books out there touting the advantages of creative thinking.

It’s a big industry and it’s valuable.

Therefore the challenge is that we don’t over cook it.

If we ‘try’ too hard to make it happen then we are in danger of forming a pseudo-creative environment that will do more damage than good.

The Artist’s Manifesto is a short book about staying true to our art. It is a call to Artists and Creatives like you to create from the heart with passion and integrity, disregarding the need for applause and recognition. It’s available from 13th May 2017. Grab your FREE copy here.

Where To Find Creativity

We generally find creative intelligence in two human abilities;

  • Artistic Expression

  • Problem Solving

Artists are free, scientists are restrained. That seems to be the way it is. However, creativity can flourish in both environments once left alone.

But that’s a tough ask in the sciences.

Science is bound to the physical, observable, provable world, and although thinking outside the box is valued, it’s encouragement is hampered by the fear of being labelled a quack.

The truth of the matter is that as more restrictions are imposed on the creator, the less creative the endeavour.

The artist, on the other hand, has complete freedom of expression to create what she will.

I find it strange that both science and art are held in such high esteem in society yet one frowns on free expression and the other celebrates it.

Two opposite ends of the same spectrum it seems.

Although I study psychology as a science, I have a connection with art.

So I guess I ride the fence.

If we found out a method whereby we could teach creativity and everybody could just explain how it was done, it would no longer be of interest. What always is an essential element in the creative is the mysterious the dark. — Alan Watts

The Threshold Effect

In the 1920s, psychologist Louis Terman, PhD examined the relationship between intelligence and creativity.

In a study of intelligent children over their lifetime, he found not all ended up developing their creative abilities.

Subsequently, psychologists began to realise that theories of intelligence made famous by Sir Francis Galton and Charles Spearman may have missed significant important elements.

Although accepting that there appears to be a link between creativity and intelligence, psychologists now believe it is not particularly strong.

However, at lower levels of IQ, there is a phenomenon known as The Threshold Effect.

According to this phenomenon, intelligence is a necessary element in creativity up to a certain IQ. After that is appears less important.

The threshold effect appears to be true for some aspects of creativity such as coming up with new ideas. But for aspects such as aptitude for music and writing it is not.

So what does that mean?

Well, it means that academic level intelligence is not a requirement successful artistically creative endeavour.

But then again you probably knew that anyway.

The Trouble Measuring Creativity

It is believed by some psychologists that creativity can be boxed and categorised, broken down into its constituent parts, assessed and evaluated.

They say to propose a theory of creative intelligence worth considering there must be valid assessment backed by empirical research.

But I have a significant problem with this idea because creativity is practically impossible to test.

The moment we try to measure creativity is the moment we take to reduce it to a sterile mechanical process.

When we define what it is, we by default define what it’s not. This is flawed because there is nothing and nobody that is not creative.

Besides, often we’ll find that our idea of creative ability and broader intelligence is born from cultural biases and social conceptions.

And so with this idea of creativity we never really get to see the full picture (pardon the pun).

I accept that study of creative ability and broader intelligence is important, but we must be very careful not to close the door on what appears to me to be beyond definition.

So, what is creativity?

If you ask me, creativity is making your shit your way, despite what anyone else thinks.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it.

The Artist’s Manifesto is a short book about staying true to our art. It is a call to Artists and Creatives like you to create from the heart with passion and integrity, disregarding the need for applause and recognition. It’s available from 13th May 2017. Grab your FREE copy here.

Originally published at larrygmaguire.com on June 16, 2017.

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Howdy, I’m Larry, Writer & Artist. Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. I write about art & creativity. When I’m not doing that I write short stories about the ordinary lives of people and the challenges they face. My stuff can be edgy, hard hitting, and sometimes controversial, but never contrived. If that’s your bag you can Sign-up To Sunday Letters Here.