Creativity Defined

(originally posted April 3, 2018 on Of Love and Light website)

 

What comes to mind when you think of the word creative or creativity?

 

If I had to wager a guess, I’d imagine a few of these words popped up: artistic, crafty, unique, eccentric, quirky. Maybe recluse, unpredictable, “dances to the beat of their own drum.” Perhaps you came up with a couple of careers or hobbies: painter, writer, poet, actor, musician, composer, designer.

 

Am I close? Totally off-base?  

 

If I am circling in the general area of what you thought of when I posed the question, you’re probably well tuned into our societal definition of what makes a creative.

 

And that’s all fine and good, but… it’s only part of the story.

 

Creative, or creativity, comes from the verb “to create.” While art and the so-called “creative fields” fit into the overall concept, creativity is a much wider concept than any of us might first imagine.

 

Growing up, as we attend school, we’re defined by our talents and our strengths (and in defining that which is a talent, we are also inclined to believe whatever we’re not called is inherently a weakness). There are the athletes, the academics, the creatives, the jokers. Those definitions are internalized, and become a starting point for how we view our place in society, and how others fit in.

 

Creative is sorted into a narrow definition.

 

By the end of elementary school, and certainly into middle and high school, you’ll hear many kids start to say, “I’m creative,” or, “I’m not very creative,” and they are almost always talking about the arts. It is a self-view that will carry on into adult life.

 

But it’s completely inaccurate.

 

Part of what I want to do at Of Love + Light is help everyone realize their creativity, enjoy it, nurture it, and own it. We are all creative beings capable of creative expression. It’s just a matter of widening our understanding of what it means to be creative.

 

The photo at the top of this post comes from my mom’s 1965 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, given to her just before she moved away to college. Interestingly, the online definition at M-W.com that appears today hasn’t changed much.

 

I want to draw your attention to the 1965 definition of create.

 

create:

  1. to bring into existence
  2. a: to invest with a new form, office, or rank; b: to bring about by a course of action.
  3. cause, make
  4. to produce through imaginative skill

 

I would say that most of the artistic fields that may have initially come to mind fit into that fourth definition. But what about the first, the second, and the third? When we expand our definition of creativity or creative to: one who a/brings {something} into existence, or b/brings {anything} about by a course of action, any seed of an idea has the potential to become creativity in action.

 

Simply put: thinking, followed by action to bring that thought into existence, is creative.

 

Consider that definition for a moment.

 

That means founding a business is creative. That means deciding what to make for dinner is creative. That means designing a bridge, running a scientific experiment, coming up with a better spreadsheet, innovating when you don’t have the tools you need, devising a new pathway home—all creative.

 

There are infinitely more approaches to creativity than there are human beings on this planet. I want to recognize the creativity in you and celebrate it. And I want to help you see it in yourself, encourage you to make time for it, and allow it to express itself through you.

 

Creativity is more than music and art.

 

When I was in Benin several years back, working on a story about Build a Better Benin, I spent time with many people who (for various reasons) could not read or write. They weren’t accustomed to holding a pencil or a paintbrush (no need for either), and were unfamiliar with how to take a photograph using my camera. Perhaps they wouldn’t be considered “creative” by the restrictive eurocentric standards that so often define what it means.

 

But here’s what they could do: sew a dress in a day without a pattern; find ways to communicate across language boundaries (not only with my English and limited French, but between the more than 100 tribal languages within the country); create a meal about 100 ways out of a cob of corn; use duct tape to fix almost anything; build an entire village on stilts; and balance a couch on the back of a motorcycle to drive it across town.

 

Can you imagine the focus necessary to do that? To balance a couch on the back of a motorcycle to drive it across town, with nothing more perseverance and a role of twine? And we’re not talking about a Harley Davidson or American highways here. We’re talking about decades old, small motorcycles, riding over potholes the size of a semi.

 

Building materials, pigs, goats, families of four or five, steel doors can all be found atop a motorcycle. Water and groceries, entire businesses might be balanced on the crown of a woman’s head. Multi-purpose approaches to transportation are very, very important in a country with limited infrastructure. 

 

Now *that* takes creative thinking.

 

As my dear friend whom I was traveling with likes to say, if Newton and Galileo had spent time in Benin, nearly all their theories of physics would have been thrown out the window.

 

I had planned to share a couple of anecdotes from my own childhood, about not recognizing—or suppressing—the creative instincts within myself until much later in life, but I think I’ve shared enough for one post, so I’ll save those for another day. Promise.

 

Does any of this expand your definition of creativity? Or have you always had a wide view of what it means?

 

What is your first memory of feeling creative, or of feeling as though creativity was something reserved for “other” people? Where would you place yourself now on the creative spectrum?

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