The scientific community has admitted that it does not have a handle on the process of artistic creativity. A 2010 review of scholarly publications on creativity by two esteemed researchers made zero mention of that process. Shocking, right? But absolutely true (I cite and discuss that review article in the Introduction to Deep Creativity).
Why have creativity researchers devoted so little attention to the creative process, let alone the experience of creative inspiration? One reason is that the process is not a rational one. As I have said many times, creativity is not just thinking outside the box but living outside it. The creative process is a bold adventure filled with passion, turmoil, sacrifice, joy, inspiration, self-transcendence, and unconditional love. These qualities are too complex and messy to be studied in a standard controlled experiment with a random group of research subjects.
To understand this process, we have to redefine the very notion of creativity. Current definitions, which focus on the product, are irrelevant to the artist immersed in the act of creating. As you can see from the video above, I have chosen to define the creative process in terms of two qualities, freshness and transcendence, which are far more consistent with the experiences described by eminent artists throughout history.
The idea of a process-based definition of creativity does not make sense to the scientific mind. Look at this recent review of Deep Creativity in Psychology Today. The author, a Brown University psychologist, dismissed these ideas outright without taking the time to consider. Here is a perfect--and very funny--example of this:
"Then Shamas breaks with convention by suggesting that it is not novelty and usefulness that characterize a creative product or experience, but freshness and transcendence. Freshness appeals to subjectivity, and it doesn’t add much to the conversation. Transcendence is more interesting. It pretty much removes all innovative and creative design from consideration. When was the last time you encountered a transcendent toilet?"
I wouldn't even know how to begin addressing the question: Can a toilet be transcendent? Certainly, it's an intriguing one. But my definition focuses on the process, not the product., and specifically on the creative experience. Although I don't know if a toilet can be transcendent, I am certain that the experience of inventing one can be.
The researchers' bias toward products over process is evident in this one brief excerpt from that review. The reviewer dismisses the experience of freshness because it "appeals to subjectivity." Yes, indeed, it does! We are talking about an experience, which is inherently subjective. He also claims that my definition applies to "a creative product or experience" when I state as clearly as humanly possible that I am only talking about the process--never the product.
This example illustrates a second reason why the scientific community has not made more headway in comprehending artistic creativity. The scientists are too enmeshed in a results-oriented society to be able to let go of their attachment to products. To the majority of people, the creative product is the be-all and end-all. They assume that the product is the reason people create in the first place. But to the artist, the experience matters far more. In his classic work, The Art Spirit, Robert Henri wrote, "The object isn't to make art; it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable."
Over and over again, artists have told us that the experience of creating is infinitely rewarding. Countless artists spent their lives in obscurity, never receiving financial compensation or accolades for their creations. Yet, that never stopped Van Gogh from painting or William Blake from writing his poetry.
In moments of creative inspiration, the artist gets a taste of enlightenment. And what could be more compelling than that?
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