Creativity and Creation (it’s not what you think)

Creativity. It’s something I’m interested in, and is a term that is bandied about often, I think, without the “bandiers” really knowing what they’re talking about. This question popped up recently in one of the groups I frequent.

“What is the root cause of creativity and creation?”

The author postulated that the root cause of creativity and creation is need.

Of course, creativity is a term we more or less think we understand. Creation, on the other hand, seemed to throw people off a bit, with references to Genesis and, you know, Creation. However, I think what the author of the question was referring to was the creation of THINGS or IDEAS, not people, the Earth, the universe and everything.

Are creativity and creation linked? If so, is there a “root cause”? This is a technical term used in the technology industry, and maybe other places, to define the underlying reason for something happening (or not happening). What is the underlying reason for creativity? Is it need?

How is creativity defined? What are the criteria we use to assess whether something is creative? Are there degrees of creativity? These are questions I’m not qualified to answer (who is?). A place to start might be here: On Defining Creativity.

From the On Defining Creativity website, the author of that site refers to Sternberg and Williams (1996, How to Develop Student Creativity) and the three types of thinking those authors feel can be taught and enhanced to bring out the creativity in all of us. These types of thinking are:

Synthetic Ability: the ability to think or generate new, novel and interesting ideas, and also the ability to spontaneously make connections between ideas, or groups of things, that often go unnoticed or undiscovered by others.

Analytical Ability: the ability to think convergently; requiring critical thinking and appraisal in the analysis and evaluation of thoughts, ideas, and possible solutions. It’s also the ability to discern the good ideas and solutions from the bad.

Practical Ability: the ability to translate abstractions and theories into application; the ability to communicate an idea to others, make them believe in the value of those ideas, works or products, and finding a potential audience for creative works.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest these “abilities” are nothing more than processes, not the underlying cause of creativity or creation.

The elegant solution is creativity at its essence, the minimal requirements necessary to form a solution to a problem, the combination of all three forms of the “abilities” listed above. But, is the creativity inherent in the solution, the person who developed the solution, the process to reach the solution, or all of it?

A creation is something made. The creation can be the result of a creative idea or a stamped out form. Is the creation itself creative, is it the process used in the creation, or the idea behind the creation?


A photograph is a creation. The creativity of the photograph lies in the vision of the photographer to select a subject then frame, compose, pose, arrange, light, and otherwise create interest in the subject to the viewer. It lies in his/her skill in the use of the camera as the tool to capture the light making the image on film or sensor, the photographer’s technique in the darkroom or on the computer to make the adjustments necessary to bring out the color, texture, form, gesture, dimension, and other components in the image, and any of a number of other “creative” things that can be done, from the selection of the image substrate, the size of the final image, embellishments, to matting and framing. Creativity plays a role in how these processes are applied to the image, which is the product of a process or series of processes. But, the photograph in and of itself, is not creative.

The root cause, if you could simplify creation and creativity in that way, could very well be need: 

the need to express
to resolve
for efficiency
for action
for a solution 

Whether the need is apparent to the “creator” or not, or even acknowledged (or understood), the creative expression is brought about by a need, a compelling (desire?), to solve a problem, be it technical, philosophical, emotional, scientific, moral/ethical, aesthetic, religious, artistic, or whatever, from the macro-scale (the individual) to the mega-scale (communities, countries, global, universal). 

Problems being solved creatively every day are: 

What should we do in this situation?
How do I best portray my feelings in my art?
What can we do to speed this up?
How do we find that out?
What’s out there?

The creative solution comes from addressing these and other questions. Every question we ask can be solved creatively and/or lead to the creation of some thing or process. But, it’s the underlying need for a resolution that drives the process at its core.

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