The Beginner’s Guide to Creativity Part 2

Introduction

Welcome to part two of the Beginners Guide to Creativity! If you missed Part One – What the Heck is ‘Creativity’ Anyhow, be sure to check it out.

As we found out, ‘creativity’ is a massive concept with a shifting definition. For the modern era, let’s accept that ‘creativity’ is both imagining and producing something that is a) novel and original, and b) useful and solves the problem it was trying to address. This could apply equally to an artist painting an image that imparts the message that they were trying to project, and a mathematician trying to come up with a fair and informative way of scoring test results that have open-ended responses.

So, is creativity good or bad? There are two ways to look at the value of creativity: how entire societies accept, encourage or use creativity, and the individual benefits of creativity. Let’s look at both!


“The continual challenge is that creativity and the arts have a tendency to be looked at as a decorative addition on top of the critical social, economic, and political fabric of a thriving society rather than as an essential part of the picture. This is fundamentally misguided.”

Nicola Brown, ‘Why Creative Thinking and Artistic Outlets in Society are More Important Than Ever.’ 2017
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Creativity: Accepted or Rejected by Society?

In researching Part 1 of this series, I found a pre-print version of Arthur Cropley’s ‘Ancient World Conceptualizations of Creativity’ in the Encyclopedia of Creativity (which is fortunate, because I don’t have the two to three thousand dollars that the full book costs, although I wish I did!). In it, Cropley discusses how various ancient civilisations valued creativity. He compared the societies of ancient Egypt, China, Mesopotamia and Greece, and whether each society viewed novelty as either dangerous or desirable. The more desirable creativity was, the higher the prestige endowed upon skilled artisans.

Of the four agrarian societies, he found that Egypt considered novelty the most dangerous and demanded that artistry be used to maintain the existing order and to ensure everlasting life after death. If you messed with the status quo, you risked ruining your chances of a blissful eternal afterlife. The result of this was an art style that remained recognisable and much the same for thousands of years.

Egyptian artists gave Pharaoh what he wanted, lest they be smited.

As if to illustrate the point that creativity was dangerous in Egypt, the rule of the Pharaoh Akhenaten broke all the rules of Egyptian culture. Originally Amenhotep IV, this Pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten when he abandoned Egypt’s polytheistic religion in favour of a single god worthy of worship, Aten. He changed not just religion, but how the Pharaoh himself was presented artistically. Gone was depicting the Pharaoh as a young, strong, god-like being. Art during this period took on a stylised, unflattering form.

The pot-belied, pointy-eared, elongated form of Akhenaten, in contrast to the heroic, always young and fit pharaohs before him.

This was indeed novel and a frightening deviation from the norm, and Akhenaten’s reign was not fondly remembered. After his death, his son and second successor to the throne, Tutankhaten, returned Egypt to the old ways of worshipping many gods, led by the king of the gods, Amun. Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun (yep, that one!) to celebrate that fact. Horemheb, the first pharaoh after Akhenaten not of his own family, instigated what became a generations-long effort to wipe all trace of Akhenaten, his creations and his family from existence, including the demolition of an entire town built by Akhenaten as his new capital. This left subsequent pharaohs such as Seti I free to get back to the good ol’ fashioned smiting of enemies.

Seti I at Karnak. Photo by Lucas at ancientartpodcast.org, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ancientartpodcast/13945870080/in/photostream/
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On the other end of the scale, Cropley found that creativity in Greece was a highly desirable phenomenon (despite the view of the Greeks that only the gods can create. Painters, carpenters, and other artisans who worked with their hands were still inferior beings, but creative philosophers and writers were the messengers of the gods. According to Cropley, the products of their work were highly desirable as they both challenged the status quo (and presumably then encouraged society to grow) and addressed the fickle whims of the gods in order to keep the devine in favour of the Greek cities.

Both ancient China and Mesopotamia fell somewhere in between Greece and Egypt on the scale of whether creativity was considered desirable or dangerous. According to Cropley, both ancient civilisations considered creativity as desirable, but only in as far as it could be used to find new ways to preserve the status quo and encourage members of society to live a ‘virtuous life’.

As Cropley and others point out, creativity in society can either be used to direct change (using creativity to supply new ideas to test and try out), or meet the demands of society to maintain the status quo:

“Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, and late twentieth-century America are examples of thriving creative societies, whereas Stalinist Russia and Maoist China are considered creativity-thwarting environments (except perhaps in domains that advanced a political or military agenda)”

Seana Moran, ‘The Roles of Creativity in Society

The supply and demand of creativity is in itself a massive concept, which I may elaborate on in a future post, but for now let’s move on to the value of creativity on individuals.

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The Value of Creativity on Health

Just to be clear, I am not a medical professional and this is a summary only, so please do not take this as advice.

Creativity can be a valuable trait on both sides of health – personal creativity to maintain your own health, and creativity in the medical professionals who may assist you in maintaining good health.

Dr. Danielle Ofri wrote an interesting article about the need for medical practitioners to use creative thinking in determining treatment options, because “patients and diseases do not come as prepackaged widgets. A slavish approach to standardized treatments without any creativity can do more harm than good.” She uses the example of ‘Witty Ticcy Ray’, whose treatment for Tourette’s Syndrome solved the physical symptoms but took away his ability to improvise as a jazz drummer. Ray and his doctor compromised. Ray took the medication during the week but stopped taking it on the weekends so that he could transform back into his jazzy self and do what he loved, thereby using a creative medical treatment to help maintain his physical, mental and emotional health.

Creativity may also have an important role in medical practice going forward in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 eras.

Studies also suggest that personal open-mindedness, and specifically the creative thinking that that trait brings, decreases stress levels in otherwise trying conditions and helps to keep the brain healthy and functioning into old age. Given that the brain controls all bodily functions, this trait may also be linked to long-term physical health.

Artistic and musical creative pursuits have been shown to improve mental health, whether through relaxation, providing an avenue for expressing the feelings of trauma and finding meaning within traumatic events, or using music to reduce anxiety, which may have a positive knock-on effect on physical symptoms.

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The Value of Creativity in Business

“Organizations today operate in a highly competitive, global environment, making creativity crucial. Creativity is what fuels big ideas, challenges employees’ way of thinking, and opens the door to new business opportunities.”

Lauren Landry, ‘The Importance of Creativity in Business‘, 2017

Creative thinking helps businesses stand out from their competitors. Whether you “think different” or “just do it”, you will find a plethora of examples of businesses big and small valuing creativity as a vital part of business operation. And if ever there is a need for creative thinking in business, it’s during a global pandemic when traditional store fronts and audience gatherings are all-but abandoned and new ways of attracting paying customers must be found to stay afloat.

At the very least, creativity in marketing will solve problems you never knew you had by selling you products that are apparently vital, to the point that they may even enter popular culture without you even realising where the idea came from. Ever had bacon and eggs for breakfast? That’s not an ages-old tradition that bacon is the ultimate breakfast meat (or even that there is such a thing as a ‘breakfast meat’), but stems from public relations marketer Edward Bernays in the 1950s who, when employed by a bacon company to sell more product, thought outside of the box and realised that breakfast was the only meal in which they would not have to compete with the likes of steak and chicken. Now, millions eat a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs without ever realising they have been the target of creative thinking.

Can you think of other areas in life in which creativity is needed? Comment below and lets expand the list in future posts!

Did you enjoy this post? Here are some more you might be interested in:

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References:

Brown, N., 2017. ‘Why Creative Thinking and Artistic Outlets in Society are More Important Than Ever.‘ Skyword Blog, posted 21 June 2017. https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/creative-thinking-artistic-outlets-society-important-ever/

Cohut, M., 2018. ‘What are the health benefits of being creative?’ in Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320947. Posted 16 Febuary 2016.

Cropley, A., 2019. ‘Ancient world conceptualizations of creativity’, in Runco, M. A., and Pritzker, S., (eds). 2020. Encyclopedia of Creativity. Academic Press. Pre-print version. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335378642_Ancient_World_Conceptualizations_of_Creativity

Dean, S., 2012. ‘Watch the inventor of PR explain how bacon and eggs became and all-American breakfast,’ in Bon Appetit. Posted June 8, 2012. Accessed 30 September 2020. https://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/pop-culture/article/watch-the-inventor-of-pr-explain-how-bacon-and-eggs-became-an-all-american-breakfast

Felber, J., 2020. ‘The importance of creativity in business.’ Forbes Business Council. Accessed 30 September 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2020/08/18/the-importance-of-creativity-in-business/#5ea71e68e7d7

Landry, L., 2017. ‘The importance of creativity in business’. Northeastern University. Created 9 November 2017. Accessed 30 September 2020. https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/creativity-importance-in-business/

Moran, S., 2010. ‘Chapter 4 – The Roles of Creativity in Society’, in Kaufman, J.C. and Sternberg, R. J., 2010. The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. http://marla308.weebly.com/uploads/2/0/3/7/20378821/moran_roles_of_creativity.pdf

Ofri, D., 2013(?). Creativity in Medicine. Accessed 28 September 2020. https://danielleofri.com/creativity-in-medicine/

Roderuez, T., 2012. ‘Creativity predicts a longer life: the trait of openness improves health through creativity.’ in Scientific American Mind. Accessed 28 September 2020. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/open-mind-longer-life/

Stuckey, H.L., and Nobel, J., 2010. ‘The connection between art, healing and public health: a review of current literature.’ in the American Journal of Public Health, 100(2): 254–263. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/

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