I have recently been privy to a very interesting conversation concerning the difference of creativity and art. My point of view has always been that these are two very distinct concepts, but for a good friend of mine they were the same. This was especially interesting in light of the fact that we have been working together and having discussions concerning creativity and art for over a year and are just now realizing how disparate our points of view are. Until now, it has never crossed my mind that these two terms could be considered the same and used interchangeably, but obviously they can. I am taking this occasion to further explore and hopefully solidify my own point of view. Please feel free to let me know if you agree, disagree, or have something to add to the conversation.
For me art has always been about self expression and exploration. Art is or (should be in my humble opinion) a personal and natural outgrowth of one’s unique point of view and process. The end result or medium doesn’t really matter; this is demonstrated by the many things that have historically been accepted as art (think Ant Farm, Situationist International, etc.). If the end result and/or the process are not defining elements, all we have left is the intent. I, personally, am comfortable with this. While ideally, there is a good amount of creativity involved in the making of art, any endeavor in life can entail and benefit from creativity. Creativity is not the sole property? of art; rather it is a practice of looking at or approaching a problem or task. Each of us have our own unique perspective on the world and this naturally gives a unique approach. But this alone is not creativity; creativity is starting from this unique perspective and manipulating, pushing and pulling and until something else emerges. This new “thing” may or may not be useful; then we do it all over again. This process of stepping away, exploring, destroying, rebuilding is creativity. Moments of failure are guaranteed and perseverance is required, but in the end this is the way of innovation and creativity. John Clease has given a wonderful talk on the intangible intricacies of this process that is a resource not to be missed. (It can be found here.)
So, in the end, I suppose I would say that art is the result of creativity and creativity is a process; a process that can be used and applied to anything in our lives, not just art. The ability to be universally applied and being innate to every person is the beauty of creativity. We can be creative in some areas and not so much in others depending on our experience, interest level and skill set. To describe creativity as universal and innate is not to say that it is divorced from skills. I would argue that the full benefits of creativity are only available when the necessary skills are mastered. It isn’t until expert technique and proficiency is gained that the creative process can be in full effect. Psychologists call this “flow”; athletes and performers call it the “white moment”. This is when time seems to slow down and the act of creation or execution holds all of your attention. Self-awareness, anxiety and intruding thoughts fall away and the creative process comes powerfully to the forefront bringing with it absolute concentration and enjoyment. Some relate this to the Zen mindlessness. This is a rare state and is hardly the normal creative environment. I think that creativity’s real advantage is actually in the development of skills. Many people compare creativity to play (including John Clease). The better you can “play” the more freedom you have to be creative,which is to say the more creative you are. Creativity is essential in learning and skill building. Creativity in developing skills (aka playing) allows us to more quickly explore, internalize and make a skill our own. Everyone, at some point, has experienced how enjoyment of the learning process effects how well and quickly we actually learn.
Obviously, the topic of creativity is broad and elusive. Even now I am finding it difficult to keep this article on topic; I keep wanting to veer off onto related rabbit trails because creativity has so many facets and so much relevance. Creativity is key to a rich life and is central to what it is to be human; not in a romantic, soft and fuzzy way, but in a “take the bull by the horns and lets make this happen” sort of way. Like Robert Strauss said, “[Creativity] is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you are tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.” (paraphrased of course) It can be consuming and requires management, patience and endurance, but in the end it really is the better way.