All creativity comes from God? You have GOT to be kidding me. Yes, the article is about something else, but that was the quote that caused my bowels to rumble and my breath to catch.
Creativity does not come from God. Creativity is definitely affected, channeled, restricted or liberated by belief or unbelief in God, gods, fairies, the Kraken, lil green tentaclechicks and Eric Northman, but creativity is an inside job.
I have spent an entire lifetime, well, since I wrote my first song at the age of eight, thinking about creativity. What is it? Where does it come from? Where does it go when it’s gone? What is it for? How does one define it broadly enough so that it’s accurate and narrowly enough so that it’s useful? Who gets to call what’s creative creative?
Are animals creative? If they are . or aren’t . what does their activity say about human creativity?
I will take a stab at a definition. I didn’t look at a dictionary first or wikipedia, so forgive me if this sounds clueless or twee.
Creativity is a normal behaviour in which a human being applies what he or she knows or intuits about the world to a novel situation; this creativity may be a thought or it may make an appearance in the world. When this application is successful it’s called creativity; when it’s unsuccessful it’s called a failure or an experiment. It’s all creativity but the reaction to the results is different.
All creativity is rooted in preference. If you take six dogs, or six cats, or six orangs, or six people, and ask them to state or make plain their food preferences, you will see that all of them, given choices, will zero in on what they genuinely prefer, or on what they think the other critters want (the whole I didn’t want it until you wanted it thing that I see play out at the food dish every day). The basic building blocks of creativity are being used the minute an individual thinks “I want….”
There are three levels of creativity. One is mechanical and we share it with higher mammals (and corvids, and cephalopods and many psittacines). It is the application of physical objects in the physical world to achieve a particular survival goal, or acquire some preferred item.
The second level is where most of us play. It happens when we do, think, make or physically embody something new, having learned the mechanics, or basics, of some human skill. nautilus3 claims my song writing is somehow superior to her quilting, but they are much of a muchness. Once she knew how to quilt, she got better and faster at it. Once I knew how to write songs I got better and faster at it; the principle didn’t change. Songwriting comes out of the place where math meets speech and emotion. Drumming comes out of the place where math meets movement (along with dance and cheerleading). Quilting comes out of the place where math meets colour and texture. (nautilus3 STILL hasn’t done a Penrose tiling quilt, no matter how many times I hint…).
The third level is where people make a category concept error and ascribe the product of human intelligence to God. It is creativity, but of a completely different and novel kind. Truly novel, not merely accomplished or polished or worthy of study for technical excellence. In order to be set among the blessed roster of human genius, you must think, and cause to appear clearly, an entire discipline. For example, the first human being who taught himself to knap flint; the human who took that knowledge and made herself a baby sling because she’d given birth to twins and couldn’t tote both of them (think how she was without other resourceful females at the time and you’ll see how it happened). One invented a new class of tool and weapon; the other invented a method of making sure she got enough food while she was nursing two younguns. Playful younguns. Curious, greedy and helpless younguns; the type who inspire their parents and elders to spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep them safe, how to keep them well, how to keep them fed. Remember, every proto human who formed a thought which resulted in one of his or her descendants living to breeding age skewed our DNA; remember, every living human being had an ancestor who went through a cheetah style reproductive bottleneck, and only the most adaptable, creative, tough and cooperative humans made it through, what with the climate going ass over teakettle, the food supply altering dramatically and the requirement to move quickly and efficiently through all kinds of terrain while encountering new threats and predators pushing down on the weak, slow and sickly. Creativity in human beings is so obviously one of the differences between humans and our kin that we forget that it TOO is an adaptation. The best of all possible adaptations, although, for the sake of the planet, maybe not so good. Creativity can also be directed to the invention of derivatives of asset backed securities and the use of mercury in precious metal mining.
The human who systematized hunting and alarm calls for his troupe and nudged humans towards language; the human who mastered fire and invented cooking; those were the creative geniuses. These days people apply the word genius with gay abandon; I only apply it people who create a new discipline. James Cameron is a really good director, but he isn’t a genius. He has not created a new discipline; he has given himself entirely to a discipline which is well established, the art of storytelling through film. To create a new discipline is not merely to be creative; it is to light, with the torch of reason, an entire area of human capacity WHICH WAS NOT VISIBLE BEFORE and to transfer the capacity to the judgment and use of the world. Einstein was a genius. Edison was a genius (also a thief, thug and anti-Semite). Marie Curie was a genius. Why? ‘Cause after they pointed something out, everybody could see it. Before they pointed it out, it didn’t exist. Somebody had to invent calculus and it’s a good thing, too, because the internet wouldn’t exist without calculus. (Because the sciences which support all these packets flying around would be crippled without it). If you read the Wikipedia article about calculus, about ten dudes from a multitude of cultures contributed to the foundations upon which calculus was built; but it took two guys, Leibnitz and Newton, to create a useful discipline. But, as I was saying, the discipline wasn’t there before. That is true creativity.
As much as I enjoy songwriting and am proud of my output, it’s second order creativity. It’s true that nobody had to show me how to do it; that’s a natural gift. It’s like watching Wayne Gretzky skate in his back yard when he was 4. The combination of encouragement (or in my case, benign neglect, while surrounded by the most glorious voices in folk music as I was growing up) and innate talent (I was harmonizing when I was tiny, because harmonizing is something I do without thought or effort) makes the application of skill to novel situations look effortless. However, nothing I’ve done has expanded song writing; all of the major elements of everything I do was either codified or made traditional somewhere between 500 and 1000 years ago. Wayne Gretzky, for talent, love of the game and character, is a model hockey player, but he’s not a genius; his creativity, like mine, colours inside the lines.
Nothing anybody can say to me will make me believe that God is guiding my hand when I write songs. It is true that I am sometimes flabbergasted by how fast and how strong it do come on sometimes, but I’m also flabbergasted by how badly I can lose my temper in a short period of time, or how fast I can assemble a tasty meal, or respond to someone else’s quip. When it goes well, it goes as fast as the human mind and body can carry it, but that goes for everybody. The trick is having a sense of humility about the whole thing. Somebody invented a system for me to write down songs; until I come up with a better way of doing it (and by god, I hate the system we have now), I’m a 2nd order creative determined to sign my own work. There’s no shame in that, but twould be a shame indeed if I asked God or the Tooth Fairy to take the credit.