An artist's eye on creativity

CREATIVITY has become a popular word lately. There are articles on creative education, creative financing, creative children, a creative life style. Doesn't it make you feel so -- creative? A lingering mystery surrounds the creative process -- those explosive leaps of thought and action that expand vision and enlarge knowledge. The dramatic words of Dr. Frankenstein, ``I have created life from inanimate matter!'' illustrate this preoccupation. But, as the Frankenstein story testifies, what we bring into being is unpredictable and may be dangerous.

What distinguishes the creative from the ordinary? Linear thought seems to be an accepted name for the opposite of creative thinking.

We use linear thought to plan the necessary sequential activities of life. It is characterized by predictabil-ity, stability, efficiency, an orderly progression from beginning to end that can be visually or quantifiably represented. One begins a task or a journey at a definable point in time and space, the direction to take is known. The logistics, action, geography to be covered, the time it will take, all can be pictured at the beginning by means of a list, a plan, a map, or a syllabus of study. Success or failure can be judged before a commitment is made. The unknown is not attempted.

Creative thought may be represented by a wide zigzag progression to a kind of mental implosion. It begins with a vague shadowy awareness that something can and must be done. When or where to begin is uncertain but a commitment must be made. Though the starting direction taken may prove wide of an ultimate goal, its success lies in eliminating one of many possible directions that might be pursued. Since the goal of creative thought is beyond present knowledge in the unknown, there is no way of representing a path to it; we must rely for guidance on feelings and intuitions. Knowledge is often an obstacle. In this mode of thought there is the keen sense of optimism that intuitions can be realized.

The mythic flight of Daedalus and Icarus is evidence that ancient man felt he should fly. Many centuries passed before such feelings became fact. The knowledge of practical human flight has been with us a mere 85 years but is the realization of a first step in a felt journey that will carry us beyond the stars. If a goal, as in the case of human flight, is attained, it becomes useful knowledge, bricks and mortar to the necessities of linear thought.

Creative thought is not a team sport. One may experience isolation, lack of social and financial support. As the life of Vincent van Gogh demonstrates, sometimes a unique vision requires more than the span of a single life before acceptance. This gives the appearance of failure. Loneliness, apathy, ecstasy, enthusiasm -- extremes of mood bear on the outcome. Creativity is practiced in a timeless realm and resembles play. It invites accusations of idleness, dreaminess, irrationality.

Through creative thought intuitions become known as facts, knowledge is expanded, a work of art is realized, a solution to a problem appears.

In representing such an exaggerated view, I admit to bias, but I don't want to be misleading. There really is no such division of thought and action as I have drawn. Our lives are lived on a level somewhere between these two extremes of linearity and creativity. Though knowledge and creativity have distinct tem-peraments, they both serve us. Knowledge responds like an obedient dog, but creativity must be coaxed like a cat. It may come when you call, or walk away. Unlimited by what we know, creation works on.

Is the sudden popularity of the word ``creative'' just a whim, a desire for novelty? Or is its use unconsciously precise, a response to the mechanical excess of linearity so profoundly felt that creativity's risks become acceptable, a necessary assertion of humanity?

Machines that use memory and logic may account for the felt need of a shift in weight to favor the creative. Artificial intelligence gives us reason to question past assumptions about human intellect. In its use of memory the computer is programmed to mimic linear thought. It is not creative. It merely applies a large memory to define logic. Computers demonstrate that facility of memory is not intelligence, merely a mechanical process. If a machine performs linear thought better than we can, what are we left with that can be called intelligence?

The muscle-replacing machines of the Industrial Revolution were threatening when first introduced. They took away jobs. Men tried to resist change, to destroy the machines, but the genie had been released from the bottle. The turmoil of early industrialization has largely been forgotten now. Its promised relief from physical toil has been realized for many of us. Computer technology offers a similar promise to relieve men of mental drudgery. It is doing much of our mental work now. In the future it will continue to assume the burden of repetitive sequential thought processes. This technology will stimulate and spread the wealth of individual creativity.

We hear ourselves say, ``I'm really not very creative, I have no talent like the poet, musician, scientist, businessperson.'' But who can predict the consequences of a single life, or the possibility in everyone to make whole areas of knowledge obsolete?

We often find ourselves an envious audience that applauds the stars, the solo performers. But both player and audience share the enrichment, in the display of human excellence.

Perhaps we have a tendency to limit intelligence to what is known and measurable. When questions are phrased so that they always have answers, there is little play for the unexpected. Isn't what we wish and dream and imagine at least as important as what we know?

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