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Creative Criteria?

dglasser's picture

Last Thursday all of my professors seemed to have read the same memo. After our morning class, I went straight to Philosophy of Creativity and then to Philosophy and the Good Life, and in each class we discussed creative origin and if there is such a thing as originality. Needless to say, after that five hour run, my head was oozing with philosophical juices, which made for a pretty bad headache. Don’t get me wrong, I love pondering unanswerable questions, but pondering the same unanswerable question in three different classes was a bit much for the second week of classes.

Now that I’ve had some time to digest the question of originality, I’d like to ask what are the criteria for an original act? It would seem to me that to be original, something must reference the familiar (like we said in class), while adding a “newness” to a previous tradition, as well as have an author/artist’s intent that may or may not be fully known by the artist at the start of their creation. This is my temporary criteria, being that I’m likely to change my mind and because there is so much that I don’t know. To demonstrate my temporary criteria, I’ve attached a YouTube video, which I stumbled upon, being that I’m a YouTube addict.

Turing on a light switch is a routine. We do this every day, several times a day, and usually in the same way. Is it creative or original? Does it reference the familiar- Yes. Does it add a newness- Yes, only in the fact that it’s a new act for that specific moment in time. Does it have an author/doer’s intent- No. A routine is often done without thought, relying on muscle memory, so turning on a switch with your hand, like always doesn’t need intent, and by that I mean consciousness. Now, is this guy in the video turning on the light creatively? Does it reference the familiar- Yes, we are all familiar with the objects and situation at hand. Does it add a newness- Yes, the combination of a light switch and pulley system isn’t an everyday normality, or at least not a pulley system we make ourselves. Is there intent to this- I’d say so.

However, this begs the question; does turning on a light switch in a purposefully unique way remove the creativity from the action? For example, is an abstract painter creative, if the reason he paints abstractly is simply to be different? Different for difference sake? Does that lessen the work’s value? I’m honestly not sure. Haven’t decided. All I know for sure is that this guy in the video may have too much time on his hands. Just saying.

See video


KT's picture

Creativity and Purpose

Interesting question, I’ve never really thought to connect purpose with creativity except in the sense of plagiarism, (as we discussed in class, if you don’t know that your thought was previously expressed, then I don’t think its plagiarism, where as if you do know that you’re copying, then it is).  In that sense, however, the purpose isn’t to be creative.  So, I’m wondering how the intent of trying to be creative diminishes the creativity.  Are we to give up and not try to be creative because if that’s our intent then it won’t be original? In which case, creativity is something that we can only stumble upon?  It’s odd for me to think of it in that way because I feel that I always do strive to add some newness to what I do, if only to make life more interesting as well as being “creative.” It seems like it’s ingrained in us in this society/culture to be creative individuals.

I’m doing my first paper on individual versus collective thinking and it will be interesting to see the overlaps in terms of your temp definition of original.  How does the idea of being an individual- which seems to necessitate being different from others, affect creativity if they both are purposeful ways of being different?  Would this make a collective society more creative because it’s not about the individual and therefore it’s more likely that creativity will occur because of the unexpected? 

Ayla's picture

On "is creativity something that we can only stumble upon?"

Disclaimer: these are some jumbled thoughts.

Personally I like to be different for the sake of being different - in certain things.  (I boycotted Harry Potter for four years before finally joining in and finding one of the loves of my life like half of the world!)  A better example is that I don't have a Facebook partly because I love everyone's reaction when they hear that.  In fact lots of people are different just to be different, and I think it is interesting to listen to people's reasons for doing so.  There is something purifying in going against the grain or fighting the current; if you beat the current you get a sense of self-accomplishment.  

So, I can relate to the abstract artist who creates abstract art solely because not many other people do so.  I think that the idea about being different for the sake of being different is actually not different at all is not only confusing but probably not hitting home head on.  The idea of intent overshadowing an action is curious to me.  If I tell someone that I care about them - only because I want them to stick around so I'm not alone - then that is an action in which the intent overshadows and tarnishes the act, right?  In this case, I'm actually showing the person that I DON'T care about him/her.  But, the opposite of being different is being the same.  So, if everyone is trying to be different, then everyone is actually the same?  I disagree.

I also have to comment that there is some pressure to be a creative individual, but the idea that everyone is expected to be unique is actually inaccurate (in my opinion).  For example, I'm a mathematician and a chemist.  My training as a mathematician is such that I need to take different puzzle pieces (theorems) and use them in clever ways to prove a statement.  I can use theorems to explore the properties of a certain function or series.  In this way, there is some pressue for me to be clever - I suppose you could say "creative."  In this case, I feel there is an expectation to be logical and use what I am given rather than to invent something new.  This logical approach can in fact yield new and useful information that many other mathematicians would read about.  So, I think that when we say that there is a large pressure for people to be unique, but there is also a pressure to use information that is already present.