My intention here is to introduce, research, and to meditate on the
nature of creativity, creative expression, and creative
* * *
When talking about creativity, the key words which come to mind
could be genius, talent, intelligence, ability, skills, originality,
The noun, «create», in English, has a meaning of «to originate»,
«to bring into being», «to give birth», and «to produce». In its essence,
the process of creativity and creation is a process of change with a certain
dynamic of a beginning and an end -- the beginning of a new product of
creation, and the end of the world before such an act of creation and change.
In this sense, creativity is an essence of life, it's context of change
* * *
Genius, according to Roman mythology, is a guardian spirit that
protects every individual, family, or city. It was believed that genius
can award his worshipers with special intellectual powers and success.
The word genius came to indicate an individual gifted with outstanding
At different times in history the variety of cultural circumstances
and religious beliefs effected attitudes towards gifted persons, the roles
they played in their communities, and their place on social ladder. The
attitude here is a dependent variable, which seem to change dramatically
over time -- from straight-out worship to tentative fear, or even paranoia.
* * *
From recent trades, it seems to me that an old European notion about
the nature of genius is much more permissive than the hard-boiled American
mistrust and disapproval of the intellectualism. As Richard Hofstadter
argued in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) there is
certain mistrustful ambivalence toward the intelligent ones.
In his essay The Last Taboo: The Dumbing Down of American Movies
the great essayist Phillip Lopate writes: «The creative intellectual's
inability to learn anything of consequence from his or her experience is
a constant in recent biopics.» Later, he states: «The one thing that is
seemingly impermissible to show in American movies today is an intellectual
possessed of self-insight ... the last taboo: we cannot have thinking people
who aren't taken in by themselves.»
The European Intellectual is so alien for the American taste
that even such a notorious figure in cinematic culture as Woody Allen was
repeatedly doomed as «foreign» and «European» -- or as a lyricist of the
New-Yorkian specific culture.
As you can see, the attitudes and the myths could be quiet harsh.
However, the topic of this paper is much more focused on the historical
development and evolvement of the concept of creativity, its historical
medium, and, finally, on the recent research, particularly one by Mihaly
* * *
Much of my life I was attracted, inspired, fascinated, and intrigued
by the people who are able to bring about personal and intimate world of
Self onto an open screen of common mentality and communal knowledge bank
-- seemingly uncaring but endlessly fascinated with the life of a single
persona and historical turnaround.
I remember my grandmother, whose blessed presence I enjoyed only for
the first seventeen years of my life, saying that she does not envy money,
or love, or luck, but the talent as a gift of life.
* * *
It has been said, that creativity is the «capacity to have new thoughts
and to create expressions unlike any other» (Creativity, 1993-1997). There
are many, sometimes contradictory views about the nature of creativity.
Still, many scientists agree that the creative process involves «application
of past experiences or ideas in novel ways»(Kearsley, 1994,1999).
There had been no systematic studies of living creative individuals
that existed -- until very recently. These studies of human creativity
represented the «bridging of the earlier concepts through application of
Intelligence, another much studied capacity (capacity to learn and
to understand), has been closely linked to creativity (Guilford, 1950).
This essay attempts to introduce the reader to the prevailing ideas
and to the notions of the 20th century about creativity. These theories
and ideas, being closely linked (since they arise from the common knowledge
bank of Western Culture), represent the time and the culture in which they
have been developed. The socio-cultural and chronological aspects of these
theories and ideas are considered and examined. The main focus of this
paper is to introduce the Theory of Optimum Performance which is
concerned with creativity; the way this theory could be applied to personal
experiences, and its effect on the quality of human life -- professional
and personal. Although, in the framework of this paper there is an attempt
to analyze the «good» and the «evil» of creativity in relation to society
and progress: should society encourage personal creativity? Can we foresee
the eventual results of creativity -- as an «attempt to impose our desires
on reality»(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 6)?
Introduction: Creativity in our lives
The evolution of thought on creativity is an evolution of philosophical
and creative thought on humanity and our capacity as «creators».
Creativity was not always viewed as the prerogative of man. There are
certain beliefs, ideas, and myths concerned with creativity. For example,
philosophy sees creativity as a process of change. Philosopher Friedrich
Nietzsche saw power over oneself and others as the source of creativity.
Romanticism, a movement in literature and in art, looked at creativity
as the «freely expressed feelings of the human spirit» («Creativity», 1993-1997).
Nikolay Berdyayev (1874-1948), Russian philosopher, known for his «Christian
existentialist or personalist views» (Baird, 1993-1997), viewed humans
as spiritual beings, and valued freedom and capacity for creativity as
«most precious gifts» of enormous importance.
Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss psychiatrist, who founded the analytical
school of psychology, interpreted creativity, and mental and emotional
disturbances as an «attempt to find personal and spiritual wholeness» (Jung,
Carl Gustav, 1993-1997).
Creativity, at present, is widely and legally recognized notion and
human capacity. There are government restrictions on creativity (Censorship)
and legal protection of creative works (Copyright). It is being recognized
in business schools, and creative problem solving is one of the
phenomena of the 20th century and a very familiar term on the marketplace.
* * *
For us, mortal humans -- our basic fears and natural curiosity have
always been original motivators in our search for the best ways to problem
solving and happier life. It is also crucial when we try to adapt to new
attitudes and ideas, and, subsequently, to change the world around us --
or in our refusal to deal with the new unfamiliar concepts, theories, approaches,
and thoughts. These motivators could stimulate our minds, they can encourage
us to make the difference and to «leave our mark», or they can represent
the roadblocks on the way to progress and to change.
The need to examine the roots and different faces of creativity becomes
even more evident with more studies linking creativity to a higher productivity
(Sternberg, 1988, 1995; Torrance, 1962, 1988). With the rise of awareness
toward our common problems and needs -- the self-accumulated knowledge
of the society, where the life expectancies are much different than even
those of our fathers and mothers -- the demands are on the improved performance
* * *
What is the nature of genius? Is it divine creation or a diabolic design
to destroy humanity? Time and again people asked these questions -- are
we inspired from the above, are we «hard-wired» for spirituality and for
creativity? Or, maybe, our dark genius lays in the far recesses of our
subconsciousness, outside of the familiar path of rational thought?
Should we adapt a Freudian view of our human nature, should we follow
in the footsteps of the mysterious but inspiring Jungian world? Will we
be lured by the optimistic theory of Maslow? Or, maybe, just maybe, a human
nature is capable of almost anything, and all of these scholars were in
their own right to create new versions of what we, humans, are all about?
When our creative expressions are limited by routine daily activities,
when self-realization is slightly more than just a repetition of past achievements
-- we do not seem to enjoy it very much or for very long. There is not
much joy in monotonous labor, there is no intellectual stimulation when
you have to go to the same places day after day, or if you have to perform
the same tasks over and over again.
We do not like repetition. Of course, there is some safety in the monotonous
work, but not much joy. We crave the creativity and the originality in
our lives. Time and again, living through routine and responsibilities,
we ask ourselves: is it all there is? Where is the excitement? How should
we use our unrequited emotions?
Now, when in a renewed rush to examine our own selves and the world
we live in, on the very verge of a new Millennium, armed with cars, dishwashers,
microwave ovens, computers, Internet, cellular phones, global communications
-- all these new technologies, which threaten to become (and they already
did!) everyday reality -- reluctantly, we stop at the doorway of the new
century. It seems that we have searched earth and heaven, discovered unimaginable,
changed the world, but do we know anything about ourselves?
* * *
As my grandmother would say on a sunny May Day, «Bolsheviks have all
the luck,» meaning that people will march under the clear sky, with no
rain or snow during these annual festivities and demonstrations.
So, do we consider ourselves lucky? We are there, are we not? We did
finally arrive to the glorious Information Age, where creativity is supposed
to be a given, a birthright. Or is it that we still do not know what the
mysterious gift of creativity is all about?
Creativity -- is it a natural human phenomenon, or is it something
only a few chosen can enjoy? Some people would like to believe that we
are born creative and industrious, that our natural potential, unlimited
and free -- given to us as a birthright -- is just stifled and blocked,
as a result of uncaring, unnuturing environment, and suppressed through
training, rigorous rules and oppressive society. According to Management
...research shows that creative ability is very high
during early childhood but drops markedly during school-age days up to
adulthood. Society fosters an environment intolerant to failure and to
problem-solving schemes that deviate from the conventional (Lizotte, 98).
Creativity and a workplace
The prevailing feeling among many people who lead so-called good, responsible
lives is such that life is just «passing them by». It happens someplace
else, maybe just outside of our own windows. Unsettled and frustrated,
we organize life's events around our unfulfilled dreams that we do not
dare to bring to fruition. We invent machines to lighten our burdens. We
fill our houses with new technologies -- but it does not make us happier.
We expect more from life, and it seems that our life styles demand even
more from us. The need to keep pace with ever more intensifying lifestyle
and the growing competition becomes even more evident in the face of economical
and cultural globalization.
* * *
The awareness of this need for creativity in the workplace of the corporate
world seems to be on the rise. There are undeniable economic benefits in
corporate creativity, and many companies recognize it. We witness the emergence
of creativity training programs, and more often than not the corporate
world adapts these «creativity-friendly» work environments.
There are numerous books on creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Sternberg,
1988, 1999) and even a course on creativity at the Harvard Business School,
providing evidence that creativity is a valuable business resource. The
methods of teaching creativity include the use of brainstorming, confrontation,
guided fantasies (visualization), and mind-mapping. To improve creativity
students in these training programs encouraged to be committed to creativity,
taking a trial-and-error approach, so the companies should be able to develop
an organizational structure that encourages creativity. In schools, teachers
working with students use similar approaches:
The creative ability of students can be encouraged using
12 strategies based on the principles of a psychological theory of creativity,
the investment theory. Since creativity is an attitude toward life as much
as it is an ability, teachers need to encourage the attitude that the three
types of abilities involved in creativity are important, namely, synthetic,
analytic and practical (Sternberg, 95).
Early conceptualizations of creativity
The discussion on creativity is always closely connected to the theological
one: God (or Gods, or Universe, or Higher Power, or Forces, and etc..),
as the source of and inspiration for creativity.
Process philosophy, «...a speculative world view which asserts that
basic reality is constantly in a process of flux and change,» is known
to be concerned with creativity (Baird, 1993-1997):
Process philosophy is as old as the 6th-century BC Greek
philosopher Heraclitus. An interest to process philosophy was renewed in
19th century by the theory of evolution. This branch of philosophy views
creativity as a process of change (Baird, 1993-1997).
Such concepts as creativity, freedom and growth are fundamental in
process philosophy «...whereas substance philosophy emphasizes static being,
process philosophy emphasizes dynamic becoming» (Baird, 1993-1997).
* * *
The view of creativity as a prerogative of man, fairly new in the history
of civilization, and could be traced down to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
German philosopher and poet, who became one of the most provocative and
influential thinkers of the 19th century:
In addition to the influence of Greek culture, particularly
the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, Nietzsche was influenced by the
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, by the theory of evolution, and
by his friendship with the German composer Richard Wagner.
...A prolific writer, Nietzsche wrote several major works,
among them The Birth of Tragedy (1872; trans. 1966), Thus Spoke Zarathustra
(1883-85; trans. 1954), Beyond Good and Evil (1886; trans. 1966), On the
Genealogy of Morals (1887; trans. 1966), The Antichrist (1888; trans. 1954),
Ecce Homo (1889; trans. 1966), and The Will to Power (1901; trans. 1910)
According to one of the Nietzsche's most fundamental concepts, traditional
values (represented primarily by Christianity) had lost their power in
the lives of individuals. He expressed this in his proclamation that «God
is dead». The morality which represented traditional values was created,
according to Nietzsche, by weak and resentful individuals. Nietzsche argued
that instead of old traditional values that do not support modern man,
new values and morality could be created. His overman or superman is this
creator of new values, of «master morality». Being liberated from old notions
and morality this overman is free to choose his own new values. This concept
of superman was repeatedly identified with totalitarian philosophies.
* * *
The importance of the controversy that Nietzshe's work created is hard
to overestimate. Its influence on the Western culture, together with Schopenhauer's,
is enormous. As an example of such influence, and as a reflection of the
ideas of these philosophers, Prestuplenie i nakazanie (1866; Crime
and Punishment) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is the most profound one. Based
on the true story, Crime and Punishment is a famous novel about limits
of morality. In this novel, the protagonist, student Raskolnikov, pondering
ideas current in his time, convinces himself that «true, rational morality
means doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people» (Lantz,
1993-1997). He tries to intellectually justify his crime -- the murder
of an old pawnbroker. «Only at the end of the novel, in his Siberian prison,
does Raskolnikov finally begin to recognize that he has violated not just
a human law but God's law as well» (Lantz, 1993-1997). In his article about
Dostoevsky Lanz states:
Dostoyevsky became widely known in the English-speaking world only
after his death ... between 1912 and 1920. His influence, however, has
been immense, and not only in literature. His novels anticipate the 20th-century
antiutopian worlds created by British writers George Orwell and Aldous
Huxley. His psychological explorations, which intrigued Austrian psychoanalyst
Sigmund Freud, show the workings of the unconscious mind and the complexity
of the human personality. The religious dimension of his works explores
the consequences of a world without God. Even though they are deeply rooted
in 19th-century Russia, his novels are surprisingly relevant to the 20th
century in that they anticipate contemporary problems of alienation, social
disruption, and totalitarianism, and the implications, both positive and
negative, of human freedom (Lantz, 1993-1997).
Man as creator
In the Western tradition, the philosophical, rather than scientific,
methods were employed to understand the learning process and the mind.
Creativity was mostly viewed as a gift, or as a magical power, but not
as a process «that unfolds over a lifetime» (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).
Consider Goethe's poetic drama Faust (first part, 1808; second,
1832). In the famous Faustian legend (Faust believed to be a version
of it) a character sells his immortal soul to the devil in return for the
knowledge and experience. «Calf of gold» («Le veau d'or»), sings
Mephistopheles in his first aria in Gounod's opera about man's aspirations
and greed. Mephistopheles urges Faust to drink from the goblet that just
moments before contained poison and death, but now contains life: «non
plus la mort, non plus le poison; - mais la vie!» (no longer death,
no longer poison -- but life).
In such view of the world the man is a mortal, helpless being, greedy
and ignorant. Only through intervention of immortal beings can man gain
the talent and knowledge that he craves.
* * *
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor and former chairman
of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, and the author
of the Flow, The Evolving Self, and Creativity, who for 30 years studied
the lives and experiences of creative people, we came to view creativity
as human prerogative only very recently. Csikszentmihalyi argues that for
most of the human history, «creativity was held to be a prerogative of
supreme beings» (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 5). He states that the world
religions are based on myths where gods are creators -- creators of the
heavens, of the earth; and creators of human beings: «helpless things subject
to the wrath of the gods» (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 5). The reason, says
Csikszentmihalyi, that we took over the title of a creator is that we understood
our world better, than humans understood it at the time when first myths
of creation arose. «It is not surprising,» writes Csikszentmihalyi, «that
as we ride the crest of evolution we have taken over the title of creator»
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 5).
The unrest that characterized the 19th century, the search for a stable
social structure, the rise and the fall of Napoleon, and Commune in France,
were all mediums that facilitated an intense interest of the scientific
and cultural community in the human character and human psyche. While evolutionists
were trying to explain the behavior and motivations of people through physiology
and instincts, the other domain was developing, attempting to justify human
behavior. In the year of 1879, the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt founded
a laboratory in Leipzig devoted to the scientific study of psychology.
Another German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, developed techniques for
the experimental study of memory and forgetting. At the same time, the
American philosopher and psychologist William James started a laboratory
at Harvard University for experimental psychology.
According to Sternberg, «one of the most influential and prolific theorists
and researchers on human condition, including creativity» (Csikszentmihalyi,
1996, p. 401), history is the medium in which «ideas and events build up
and arrive with some significant effects rarely going away». Sternberg's
assumption is that the early conceptualizations of creativity and research
were in themselves «exceptional creative acts» (Sternberg, 1999). There
were no systematic studies of living creative individuals, that existed,
until very recently. These studies of human creativity represented «the
bridging of the earlier concepts through application of research methods».
Sternberg states that methods that being applied are essential to the meaning
and significance of creativity in human experience, and to how and why
historical events were set in motion. To understand this, writes Sternberg,
there are three aspects of creativity within history:
...The first is that the significance of historical processes
that lies in the timing of the events and in their content. 'When' determines
'what' will be important. Second, institutions and identifiable groups
are critical in selecting and giving coherence to the important strands
of possibilities already in the work and minds of creative persons. Third,
the relevance of ideas and events becomes apparent only when there is a
group of engaged articulate persons deeply concerned with the same question,
problem, or set of possibilities (Sternberg, 1999).
* * *
There are certain socio-cultural and chronological factors, linked
to the time in history when it became possible to develop new attitudes
towards human mind and human behavior.
On the European political scene at the end of the 19th century, after
the years of struggle for power, the Eastern Question arose as a by-product
of the state system in Europe, «which had been in use since the late 18th
century as a way to preserve the balance of power» (Eastern Question, 1993-1997).
By the beginning of the 1800s «the European empires had largely declined.
Most of the Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonies in the Americas gained
independence during and in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars» («Eastern
Question,» 1993-1997). In France, republicans of Paris staged a bloodless
revolution and proclaimed the establishment of the Third Republic, the
Commune of Paris (1871) -- the revolutionary government established
by the people of Paris:
The Commune adopted or proposed many changes for the
benefit of workers. However, before they could take effect, the National
Assembly sent troops to Paris to suppress the revolt. The Commune fell
on May 28 («Eastern Question,» 1993-1997).
Britain, which competed principally against France and Germany, made
a series of claims in West and southern Africa in the 1880s.
This so-called New Imperialism was
characterized by much more aggressive imperial expansion
and defense of British interests overseas. The collapse of the European
balance of power and successive global wars in the 20th century signaled
the demise of modern colonialism. In a matter of three decades, the colonial
empires, built over a number of centuries, were almost totally dismantled
The 19th century economy was distinctly marked by the mass emigration
of Europeans into the New World. Over 40 million individuals were said
to have emigrated from Europe between 1850 and 1913 (Hatton, Williamson.
1994). The end of the century has been characterized by the rise of the
New Imperialism and the end of Victorian era. With the end of Victorian
era, «the moral standards, characteristic of that time, were changing as
well. According to some historians the decline in morality began with the
moral relativism of the 1960s» (Hatton, Williamson. 1994).
* * *
The 20th century is the time that still needs to be reflected upon.
Those who lived through two world wars, the rise and fall of communism
and the civil rights revolution suggest that the past was both «better
and worse than the common assumption» (Futures.1999). According to the
Futures magazine, an individual opinion on the 20th century's most life
changing event vary with the person's profession or orientation. A doctor
considers the discovery of penicillin as the «20th century's defining moment
because this has ended the dark ages in science and medicine». A historian,
on the other hand, believes that the «assassination of Archduke Ferdinand
was the most important event in the 20th century because this marked the
start of World War I» (Futures. 1999).
The 20th century has been characterized by several innovations
and developments in science. The emergence and popularity of computers
have promoted a greater level of public understanding of science with respect
to scientific breakthroughs and successes. However, scientific innovations
in the 20th century have also promoted a sense of personal uncertainty
and deterministic confidence. It is anticipated that it will end at the
same level of supernatural credulity as the 19th century (Dawkins. 1999).
Theory of optimal experience
A great many psychologists devoted their professional lives to find
out «why people become anxious, depressed, or disturbed». (Review of Flow.
1990) For the past few decades, however, more and more researchers have
instead been studying «why some people remain confident, optimistic and
calm even in the face of hardship and adversity» (Review of Flow:
The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 1990).
According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has been investigating
creativity and its influence on the lives of contemporary people, «creativity
is a central source of meaning in our lives» (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).
For the last 20 years Csikszentmihalyi has been studying the concept he
calls flow. The state of flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is
the special state of «involved enchantment», that lies between boredom
and anxiety. It takes energy and effort: a person in flow state is mentally
involved in the challenge and intrinsic pleasure of the activity (and not
bored), «yet lacks self-consciousness and performance apprehension (the
hallmarks of anxiety)» («Review of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal
Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi», 1990).
The article in the 1990 March issue of the New York Times Book Review
states that as a theory of optimal experience, flow is a big improvement
over Abraham Maslow's notion of self-actualization:
«...Maslow regarded optimal experiences as frosting on
the cake of life. ...Maslow's popular idea that basic needs must be met
before people can pursue 'higher order' needs for self-fulfillment has
never been validated by research. On the contrary, many people who endure
poverty, tragedy, and abuse nonetheless manage to find contentment and
fulfillment» («Review of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi». 1990).
Csikszentmihalyi regards flow as the antidote to the evils of boredom
and anxiety in all realms of experiences. According to the article, flow
is important, because it underlines the psychological accuracy of what
philosophers have been saying for centuries: the way to happiness lies
in absorption in the world, «not in having it done for you but in doing
In accordance to his own theory, Csikszentmihalyi, like so many creative
people that he studied, builds up on his own findings, creating a life-long
work and commitment. In his next book, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology
of Discovery and Invention, he writes about creative work:
...Perhaps only sex, sports, music, and religious ecstasy
... provide as profound a sense of being a part of an entity greater than
ourselves. But creativity also leaves an outcome that adds to the richness
and complexity of the future (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).
In this book Csikzentmihalyi illustrates what creative people have
contributed in different domains and shows readers how they can be creative.
He states that two types of creative people exist, the unusually bright
people and the personally creative ones. Moreover, Csikzentmihalyi noted
that ten pairs of antithetical traits are present in a creative person.
Among them he includes convergent and divergent thinking and being imaginative
and realistic at the same time (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). «Most of the things
that are interesting, important, and human,» argues Csikszentmihalyi,«are the results of creativity». We share 98 percent of our genetic
makeup with chimpanzees. What makes us different -- our language, values,
artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology -- is the
result of «individual ingenuity» that was recognized, rewarded, and transmitted
through learning. He states that without creativity it would be difficult
«to distinguish humans from apes»(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). The reason creativity
is so fascinating is that when we are involved in it, we feel that we are
living more fully than during the rest of life.
Creativity -- in the eyes of beholder or scientist
Creative process uses «symbolic coding» to express emotions, views,
and ideas. When we think about creative people, the first image that comes
to mind is an artist, or a poet:
We think about creativity, and images it produces as
deeply personal and therapeutic. In recognition of the healing that is
present in creating a symbol or an image, various therapies have been developed:
art therapy, music therapy, poetry therapy, dance therapy. But if the person
is talented in any of this domains, the work produced as self-therapy,
becomes more. The work of the talented person transforms other people's
lives in its representation, and majesty, in its depiction of the human
condition reaching toward the sublime. Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo:
'Either shut me up right away in a madhouse or else let me work with all
my strength' (Found on the Web, Author unknown, 1999).
Still, from the researcher's point of view, creativity is a «process
by which a symbolic domain in the culture is changed»(Csikszentmihalyi,
1996. p.7- 8). Linking creativity to biological evolution, Csikszentmihalyi
compares the ability to create to the process of genetic changes which
happens as the result of evolution «where random variations take place
in the chemistry of our chromosomes, below the threshold of consciousness»
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996. p.7- 8). The example he uses to illustrate his
theory, however, is not complete, since in the evolution of culture there
are no equivalents to genes and chromosomes. To support his theory, author
uses a concept of memes -- units of information, necessary to be
learned in every generation to continue the culture. Theories, numbers,
laws, languages -- they are all memes, being passed on from parents to
children in order to support and develop existing culture: «It is the memes
that a creative person changes, and if enough of the right people see the
change as an improvement, it will become part of the culture» (Csikszentmihalyi.
1996. p. 7).
It is obvious to the reader that the more memes the person is
able to learn, the more culturally adept this person becomes. Following
Csikszentmihalyi's lead it is easy enough to trace down this concept of
creativity to the notorious nature versus nuture argument and to
the notion of progress, change, and «improvement of nature».
One on one with creativity
According to Csikszentmihalyi, and so many other sources, it seems
that we would like to believe that creativity is a great way of life: it
is out to make us happy, fulfilled -- and it is healing, transcendental!
But is it so? If creativity is such a blessing, and we all have to achieve
this divine state of flow, would we solve all the world's problems, wars,
poverty, injustice? And if genius is blessed, how should we judge the development
of submarines, machine guns, battleships, and chemical warfare that «made
increasingly clear the destructive side of technological change»? (Technology.
1993-1997). Creativity, as a source of any innovation, change, or technological
development, becomes an issue of controversy. «The God is dead,» proclaimed
Nietzsche. «...We have taken over the title of creator,» states Csikzentmihalyi.
What will happen now? Csikzentmihalyi argues that «it would help if we
realized the awesome responsibility of this new role». He writes:
Whether this transformation will help the human race
or cause its downfall is not yet clear. ...The gods of the ancients, like
Shiva, like Yehova, were both builders and destroyers. The universe endured
in a precarious balance between their mercy and their wrath (Csikzentmihalyi.
1996. p. 6).
As with any theory, the theory of optimum performance has its implications.
According to Csikzentmihalyi, creativity is the main focus of human life.
Without creativity, it seems, our lives tend to become pointless and meaningless.
We become mere shadows of our potential selves. It seems that the theory
of optimum performance is closely linked with prevailing beliefs and notions
of Western civilization, especially the merit-based, Calvinistic notions
of American culture.
* * *
The belief that personal responsibility of an individual is necessary
condition for successful and fulfilled life could be productive for some
individuals and, unfortunately, can alienate and discourage others whose
need for collective effort and shared society life is greater. Even Csikzentmihalyi
mentions that successful and creative individuals could seem aloof and
individualistic. In his opinion, such as only a facade, since, as he states,
they are just «busy» or «preoccupied». You can always say that, even being
supported by ample evidence and substantial research, Csikzentmihalyi's
theory is just another idea. He was just, some people would suggest,
fulfilling his own prophecy, and attracting people and evidence he believes
There are always people, writes philosopher Simon Blackburn,
telling us what we want, how they will provide it, and what we should believe.
Convictions are infectious, and people can make others convinced of almost
anything. ... In the end, it is ideas for which people kill each other
The world of ideas, again, can lead us as society either way. It is,
after all, the world of presently notorious virtual reality. The
controversy is swiping through the media in the whirlwind fashion. It will,
no doubt, settle down for a while, then it will arise again with every
new phenomenon, event, crime, every change and challenge... Should we?
Could we? Where will it lead us? What a great bank of small talk ideas
for a casually friendly bridge party.
It was said by Marx that all previous philosophers had tried to understand
the world, but the idea should be to change it.
According to Nietzsche, any philosophy is its' creator's pathology.
* * *
As we, as society, learn to appreciate differences and tolerate «alternative»
behavior and life styles, we also come to understand that people have different
beliefs, different needs, and different ways to express these needs and
these beliefs. Of course, there are those creative individuals who need
very little communication, encouragement, and resources to stay connected
to their own goals, those who are self-motivated, and self-determined to
create life for themselves. Still, there are more than enough those --
and it is still no proof that these people are less important than more
creative individuals -- those who are willing and happy to have less complicated
and less creative lives. Those who follow the rules, and happy to have
more secure every day life.
* * *
At different times in history different types of people were called
forward. Depending on socio-historical events, there was a need for leaders,
for charismatic and creative individuals (and we all know that these traits
could be dangerous, they can lead either way), or for the followers --
for people who were willing to perform creative and heroic acts, or for
those who were comfortable to lead conservative life styles. It is impossible
to say if either of these different types of people are more or less relevant
for the survival of human race. Depending on time, historical condition,
or type of society the events were taking place in, the necessity rose
for a certain type of an individual to come forward in order to preserve
At the time when Nietzshe issued his notorious proclamation, the call
for new moral values in Western world was on the rise. The theory of optimum
performance came at the time when Western society was ready to accommodate
the life style where the man as the creator was able to «create» his or
her own reality, when the need for collective effort was temporary overcame
by the opportunity to experience an individual reality.
The freedom that we all enjoy now commands us to survive in the world
that is increasingly hostile and individualistic. It could seem, that by
choosing to become the creator, man is rapidly alienated from the rest
of society, and the need for creativity turns into a pressing need for
some people -- to fill out places that are empty, to fulfill lonely lives.
* * *
Creativity invites reflection or what is called a philosophical view
of the world. Creative mind questions the reality of the picture that presented
by this world. It requires an open-mindness, a room for possibilities and
Since there is no telling in advance where it may lead,
reflection can be seen as dangerous. ... Many people are discomfited, or
even outraged, by philosophical questions. ... Reflection opens the avenue
to criticism. ... In this way, ideologies become closed circles, primed
to feel outraged by the questioning mind (Blackburn, 1999).
Maybe, because of the threatening nature of reflection for an average
community dweller, creative personalities sometimes deserve reputations
of unsociable and unapproachable characters.
Well, than, should we question the value of creativity? The issue here
is as old and as controversial as any human quest: where the reality ends
and where the creative mind takes off in search of its' perfect illusion?
The controversy of creativity comes from the same old human issues -- problems
of self, existential anxieties, human mortality, the value and morality
of knowledge, and, finally, the nature of reality.
* * *
If Csikzentmihalyi's theory is right, and I would like to believe so,
if we can achieve the state of flow and bliss -- the world-age problems
should be solved, and all that you can wish for yourself and for Thy's
neighbor is creative state of mind.
Creativity, as an all-organizing principal of mental and, consequently,
physical and social activity, structures the ever wandering, anxious and
spontaneous human mind.
The spontaneity is a known factor for creativity. Without spontaneous
mental activity and consequent action creativity is just another artificial
and forced effort. There are all kinds of legends and true historical facts
about discoveries made in the dark of the night, in a dream-like state
-- performed subconsciously and accidentally. But is it so?
The Law of Least Effort known to be working for the carefree
Mozarts of the world. And hard working Salieris are doomed to fall in the
pit of forgotten non-geniuses. But if Mozarts are carefree and their genius
is just this precious gift of gods... According to Csikzentmihalyi's theory,
the law of least effort working only for those who are mentally
prepared -- in the reality where the practice is the Law and God is in
details. And the dynamic is just right. The right amount of work and effort,
the exact measure of freedom and spontaneity.
The wrath of gods
World War I and the Great Depression forced a «sobering reassessment
of the rapid technological explosion of the 19-20th centuries» (Technology.
According to Encarta Encyclopedia, «...worldwide mass unemployment
and the disasters met by capitalistic institutions in the 1930s initiated
a further strong critique of the benefits that result from technological
progress» (Technology. 1993-1997).
The lost generation of World War I was still recovering from
the terrifying memories of the battleground, lost limbs, the use of gas
as the weapon, the shell shock, and the end of the world as it was known
Then, with World War II, came the development of the atomic bomb. The
development of computers and transistors came also as a technological outgrowth
of World War II. The accompanying trend toward miniaturization is having
«equally profound effects on society as well». The possibilities it offers
are enormous, but so are «the possibilities for invasion of privacy and
for workforce displacement by automated systems»(Technology. 1993-1997).
Many historians of science argue not only that technology is an «essential
condition of advanced, industrial civilization» but also that the rate
of technological change has «developed its own momentum in recent centuries»(Technology.
1993-1997). Innovations now seem to appear at a rate that increases in
geometrical progression -- »without respect to geographical limits or political
These innovations tend to transform traditional cultural
systems frequently with unexpected social consequences. Thus technology
can be conceived as both a creative and a destructive process (Technology.
During the 1950s the attention of general public was shifting onto
other products of technology that had harmful effects. The automobile exhausts,
that were polluting the atmosphere, some chemicals, such as pesticides
(DDT) that were threatening the food chain, and mineral wastes were polluting
large reservoirs of groundwater:
Indeed, the physical environment has become so jammed
with technological processes that one of the major challenges of modern
society is the search for places to dump the wastes that have been produced
In his Small Is Beautiful (1973), the British economist E. F.
Schumacher stated that --
for humane, aesthetic, moral, and political reasons --
the overwhelming nature of modern technology threatens a quality of life
that has meaning, freedom of choice, a human sense of scale, and an equal
chance for justice and individual creativity(Technology. 1993-1997).
Supporters of this viewpoint have proposed a value system in which
all people recognize that the earth's resources are limited
and that human life must be structured around a commitment to control the
growth of industry, the size of cities, and the use of energy(Technology.
Another school of thought, technological determinism, argues that «modern
society is no longer living in the industrial age of the 19th and earlier
20th centuries». They argue that postindustrial society is already a reality,
the complex sociotechnical networks mediated by advanced
electronics have made obsolete the institutions of nationalistic governments,
capitalistic corporations, and heavily populated cities (Technology. 1993-1997).
* * *
There is a fragile balance between the exiting new world we are creating
and the dangers that human mind can impose on reality. In the Setting
the Stage, an introduction to his book on creativity, describing this
dilemma, which he does not even attempt to avoid, Csikzentmihalyi saying:
The world we inhabit today ... teeters between becoming
either the lovely garden or the barren desert that our contrary impulses
strive to bring about. The desert is likely to prevail if we ignore the
potential for destruction our stewardship implies and go on abusing blindly
our new-won powers. (Csikzentmihalyi. 1996. p. 6)
There are only few months left before we will enter the next Millennium.
The uncertainty of the future, the anxiety connected to the past, and to
the events of political and cultural unrest -- a prevailing concern. Should
our future result in the catastrophic explosion of problems that were accumulating
for a long time? Will humanity finally learn the painful lessons of the
past and take a safe road to recovery and healing?
«The God is dead,» proclaimed Nietzsche. «...We have taken over the
title of creator,» states Cikzentmihalyi. The dangers of human mind studied
by Freud -- what do we know about ourselves?
* * *
With more studies targeted to understand the human prospective in relation
to happiness and productivity -- would we know better how to make our lives
productive and content, even in the face of adversity? If God is «dead»
what is the force behind the most profound works of man? Riding on the
flow, should we avoid the dangers of unproductive, unfulfilled lives?
The dangers of boredom, anxiety, mental illness, misery, poverty, and crime?
Maybe, the myth of creativity is a new idol which attempts to take over
the empty space of religion and perfect social system we did not create?
There are many questions. This essay can only skirt over the problem,
should we say -- an existential question? We do not know the answer, but,
maybe, we are close enough to sense that we can fulfill the need for meaning,
and to satisfy the age-old craving for creativity and purposefulness.
If we are to become «the main power that decides the destiny of every
form of life on the planet -- at least we can try to understand better
what this force and how it works» (Csikzentmihalyi. 1996. p. 6).
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