While cleaning out the attic for our upcoming move, I came across a textbook from my college advertising copywriting class. A paper sticking out from the book had the outline for chapter one on the front and a list of key words to define on the back. Curiously, one (and only one) of those words was already defined:
Creativity: new combinations, arrangements or designs of existing concepts, elements or data that form, reveal or result in fresh insights, original viewpoints or unique relationships.
- Sherilyn K. Zeigler and J. Douglas Johnson
Experts in the field of creative studies have tried to define creativity for years. Perhaps in the spirit of creativity, in which there is never just one answer, these experts have failed to agree on just one definition. But they keep trying. At least in principle, most agree that it has to do with new or unique ideas that result in something useful, valuable or meaningful. But the ways in which they attempt to express that idea are endless.
I like many aspects of the definition given by Zeigler and Johnson on that paper I found in the attic. It’s long, but relatively inclusive. In particular, it highlights the idea that creativity comes from “new combinations, arrangements or designs of existing concepts, elements or data,” which is something very accessible to everyone in both their personal and professional lives. And yet, it still falls short for me—particularly when it comes to the revelations and results they identify.
My own definition of creativity is more holistic in nature—mostly because I embrace the practical, artistic and spiritual aspects of creativity and see clear distinctions between them. I believe in creative problem solving, creative expression and personal transformation—which has more to do with creating a life than any kind of physical product. Think Abraham Maslov, who placed creativity in the category of self-actualization in his hierarchy of motivations. Once more basic needs are met, creative expression and growth can lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life. So here’s my attempt at a definition:
Creativity is the act of solving problems, expressing one’s self, and transforming one’s life in unique and meaningful ways.
Maybe I'm just quibbling over semantics, but as one with a lifelong fascination for creativity, I love hearing how people define creativity, seeing how they express it, learning about their creative habits, and gaining insight into their motivations and creative process. Also, because creativity is valued and evaluated by society, I believe it is helpful to have at least a general consensus of what that is.
How do you define creativity? And how do you use it or express it in your life? I’d love it if you would share!