Creativity is not art

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It seems as though any time you talk about creativity with somone who doesn’t consider themselves to be very creative, the conversation typically revolves around art.

Drawing, writing, sculpture, photography, music, dance, you name it. But art isn’t creativity, and the reverse is also true.

Actually, creativity is the mental capacity to generate novel and useful ideas, more or less. It isn’t about art or design, writing or music. Creativity is, at its core, about ideas and how we develop, understand, and communicate them. Not just in terms of the arts, but in every realm of thinking and work.

Of course, some art requires creative thinking, the ability to see what nobody else can see, to create what nobody else has created. But art itself is not creativity incarnate.

Why do people tend to talk about the two as though they were inexplicably connected then?

I believe we often talk about art whenever the topic of creativity comes up because it’s easier to believe that everything outside of the world of art has concrete rules which we cannot break. Whereas art, with its freedom to interpretation, only has loose rules which are broken often and freely in order to create higher caliber—or questionable—art.

Mathematics, nutrition, and physics, are a lot more restrictive in how we interpret and work with them. There isn’t a lot of room for rule-breaking in the realm of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

But, of course, that isn’t true either. Most problems are not like math problems. Still, there are plenty of opportunities in the world of STEM to think creatively. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX are pushing the known boundaries of engineering by creating rockets that can go into space and then come back to Earth and land, upright, on a autonomous drone in the middle of the ocean. In mathematics creative strides have been made throughout history: calculus, binary logic, and matrix algebra, to name a few creative breakthroughs.

Not only that, but math has been used as a fundamental creative device for propelling innovation forward over the last century.

If we look at creativity as being about expression, or about solely existing in the freeform world of art, we diminish its power. Unsurprisingly, by doing so we also give ourselves an excuse: I could never be creative, we tell ourselves, because I only work around logic, reasoning, and science.

The reality is creativity exists in many different forms across many different areas of work, thinking, and problem-solving.

It’s worth repeating: creativity is about ideas and how we develop, understand, and communicate them. Not just in terms of the arts, but in every realm of thinking and work.

If you think you’re creative or not, you’re right. Even if you aren’t an artist, or a scientist.