What is Creativity? Some (Random) Thoughts on Process and Form

Recently, I have been having some interesting conversations with my brother-in-law about artistic expression, forms and creative process. I have known him for years before he became my brother-in-law and have known that he used to write poetry. But I never had a chance to read them. In the recent conversations, we have been discussing his poetry, his photography-a sample of which I tweeted, etc. Now having been exposed to his artistic expression, I think he is an exceptionally creative person (which he bashfully disagrees with, of course!). I cannot write poems and my feeble attempts at photography are well documented on this blog.

As regular readers of this blog would know (I’ll assume that you are a regular reader; if not, what is taking you so long…! 😉 ) I have been exploring the source of my creativity, what form this may take and when; this, I have been doing, in the process of looking for other forms of creative expression, having taken a break from music. I have explored this in detail here.

Whilst discussing what form creativity takes, it seemed to me that there are two (or perhaps more) fundamental ways in which creativity works: a) for some, it is their artistic expression within a given set of parameters; b) whilst for others, it is a boundary-less, abstract expressions of creativity. Let me give an example: the difference between the two is the difference between abstract paintings and paintings of patterns. Arguably, abstract paintings have their own patterns- however, I am referring to those artists who need those boundaries (broadly defined) within which they can express their creativity and those who don’t.

It seems to me that whilst both can be seen as different kinds of creativity, when we say ‘art’, the second kind is valued more than the first, because it is seen as being ‘postmodern’ and going beyond the boundaries. Of course, this kind of creativity is liberating, you are working beyond the boundary. Thus, if an artist makes a photography and another artist makes a painting of the same photograph, the image and its creator tend to be valued more than the painter. The value I am referring to here is not a Bourdieuian sense of cultural capital- of high art and low art. Rather, there is a fetishisation (not in the Marxist sense) of what creativity is, the answer to which is tied closely to the question of originality and hierarchy of time-when was the art created. Several philosophers, from Michel Foucault to Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, have explored these issues.

How must one understand art, then? Surely, it is a subjective expression of the creativity of the artist. Or must how we understand (and evaluate) creativity be tied closely to what form does that creativity take and what purpose does that form have? I realise that most artists grapple with these questions. Answering these questions are difficult to those who are attempting to find alternate ways of expressing themselves. There is, of course, subjectivity involved in both artistic expressions and their interpretations. May be art must approached as a form of self-expression without creativity (or ‘lack thereof…!’) of the creator being the primary focus; in other words, art must be seen as a self-expression and not a self-expression of one’s creativity.


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