A few months ago, my friend Tim Hallinan asked me to participate in a series he was doing on creativity. I loved the concept, and though a bit terrorized to be included in the company of Emmy and Oscar winners, I gamely tried my hand. The basic question he asked us to contemplate: What Is Creativity? I'd love to hear what YOU think.
Defining creativity to me is akin to the government’s views on obscenity – it’s something you recognize when you see it, but no one knows exactly the moment art crosses the line into obscenity. How do you define creativity? What does it mean? Is there a good definition?
I went back to the basics, and looked at what the word creativity means to the official folks who write the dictionary. They’re smart, they’ll have a good sense of it, right?
I loved the definition I found:
Creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”
Transcendence. Now we’re talking.
But it’s still not perfect.
There is a difference, I think, between creativity and the creation of art. Creativity is simply a new way of doing things, a solution addressing a need. Creativity is problem solving. Anyone, given the right tools and motivation, can be creative. Art, on the other hand, is problem solving in its most esoteric form. Art gives solutions to problems that no one knew existed. Art creates problems to solve.
Look at it this way. You’re lost in a strange city. You approach a friendly looking fellow and ask, “How do I get from point A to point B?”
A normal person will tell you.
A creative person will give you a few routes and look at you quizzically, as if to say, “why couldn’t you think of that yourself?”
An artist, though, will argue about why you have to go from point A to point B. What about trying Point A to C instead, or, better yet, how about forgoing the path altogether and seeking a route to X?
When faced with a problem, a creative person will find a new, different way to solve it. An artist will find multiple solutions, different paths that are laden with color, sound, scent, characters and plot, try them all, figure out which ones work, then discard all of the solutions in favor of the most treacherous, difficult path, the one where no one has traveled before.
Ah, the road less travelled. That’s what separates the creative among us from the artists.
But you can’t get to the point of being an artist without being creative. So we’re back to the same old conundrum: What is creativity?
Creativity, obviously, is creation. It’s as simple, and as complex, as that.
Art, on the other hand, is something creative that transcends conventional ideology to develop something new and original that speaks to the audience. It is a contract between your mind and the rest of the world. Stephen King calls it a psychic connection between the writer and reader; the same could be said of a painter, or a musician, or an architect. Where there once was nothing, now there is something, and the audience sees that. They experience your thoughts through your medium. It’s overwhelming, if you think about it. All of this psychic communication, there for the taking.
That said, you don’t need to have any kind of approval, or recognition, to be creative. But it is the simple act of creating something new, something no one else has before, that makes you an artist – be it a novel, a poem, a screenplay, a painting, a ballet, a composition, a guitar lick, a new angle on an architectural drawing – anything that is creative in its nature can be art.
I realized that I was tightrope-walking the thin line between creativity and art early on, but had that budding insouciance nipped by a decidedly non-creative teacher who told me I’d never be published. There is nothing, nothing worse than fettering an artist. Some rise above the criticism, become because of it. I, unfortunately, did not. I walked away and spent fifteen soulless years looking for something. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right, I knew I wasn’t happy, I knew I was being stifled, but it never occurred to me to sit down and create my way through it.
I found that voice again through reading. I was recovering from a surgery, had oodles of time on my hands, and I lost myself in books. I read a lot during that year, everything I could get my hands on – historical, mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction. The words on the page were my lifeline back to a creative life.
It’s funny how the mind works. I wish I could say that I planned to become a novelist, that I wanted to play with the form, to create a literary thriller series that showcased my characters, my setting and my words. But I wasn’t that prescient. I had an idea, a spark. A creative moment, if you will, and my main character leapt into my head fully formed. She was tall, like me, blond-haired, gray-eyed, spoke with a slow, smoky southern accent. She was righteous, and good, and would be the protector of Nashville. Her name, of course, was Taylor Jackson. My very own Athena.
And with the name came a storyline from a dream – twin girls leading separate lives, one who would do anything to further her career, one who was dissatisfied with the life she’d been striving to build. And suddenly there was an antagonist, a man who was killing young girls. A backstory.
Before I knew it, I’d written an opening paragraph. In a move so utterly subconscious that I can only look back on it and laugh, I wrote about a murder on the steps of the Parthenon. The skies were sapphire blue, and a squirrel toyed with an acorn.
I actually was moved to tears by that paragraph, not because it was any good – it wasn’t – but because it was the first creative thing I’d written in so very long. Suddenly, I had a story to tell, and I buckled down to tell it. While I did, a strange thing happened. I began to feel lighter, and freer. I became so incredibly happy. I didn’t really think about being published, that came later. Instead, I reveled in the moment, the realization that I needed to do research to make the story come alive, that I was building, slowly, a rather large file of pages that moved me.
It was then that I started to wonder. If this story moved me, might it move someone else?
And there it was. My moment of transcendent creativity. It was a simple thought that broke me free, that allowed me to make the leap from just being creative to becoming an artist. That moment, about halfway through the manuscript, when I realized I wasn’t writing just for me.
I was writing for you.
Wine of the Week: Morellino Di Scansano Rinaldone dell'Osa