Why Creativity is Too Important to Be Left to Artists
‘Creativity’ is one of the most prestigious ideas of modern times and as a result, we often want to feel creative while lamenting that our lives don’t give us sufficient opportunities to be so. But this impression may come down to an unfairly inflated and unhelpfully skewed notion of what creativity could actually involve. We are far too focused on creativity’s dramatic highpoints within a narrow, cliched band of activities, like the writing of a prize-winning novel or the making a film that receives accolades at Cannes or Berlin. By this standard, almost no-one can be creative and creativity must remain an elite and even freakish anomaly entirely disconnected from ordinary life.
The German philosopher Hegel put the idea in its grandest terms: we are creative, he wrote, when we ‘strip the world of its stubborn foreignness and adapt it to our needs.’ Usually, we just put up with matters that are frustrating or disappointing. But when we get creative, we adapt what is to hand – combining, reorganising, starting afresh – so that it better matches our interests and ideals. It is the opposite of feeling stuck and resigned, it is a refusal to accept the status quo. The creative person is someone particularly committed to the idea that there must be a better way of going about things.
A lot of work – paid and unpaid – is more creative than we usually suppose: when we repaint the bathroom and choose a more pleasing colour that we noticed in a book about houses in India; when we cook a meal and arrange the asparagus on a serving plate in the way they did in a film. In every case, we are being creative because we are spotting an opportunity to make an improvement and increase our pleasure in life through an act of rearrangement and combination.
Creativity isn’t a rare and highly dramatic activity; it’s not a side-show incidental to the core concerns of our lives. It’s something that – ideally – we’re always involved in. It’s a refusal to accept the world as it is in all its facets, it’s a commitment to doing better with what we have. As creative people, we don’t have to write novels, we are just persistently on the lookout for ways (sometimes very small) of improving our lives: we try being more complimentary to a tricky colleague; we experiment with different music in the car; we reorganise the cutlery drawer or get up ten minutes earlier so we can do some stretching exercises first thing. We don’t see the current arrangements as fixed; we’re always ambitious to fine tune, to re-arrange, to adapt, cut out and adjust in order to creatively bring a little more pleasure and coherence into our own lives and those of others.
Find out more in our class on Creativity.
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