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Creativity is Not a Mystical Occurrence: a response to Michael Ruiz’s review of K. H. Kim’s the Creativity Challenge

Posted on February 24th, 2017   Comments

This is my response to “the Eight Signs of a Creative Person” by K. H. Kim as quoted by Michael Ruiz in How to Combat America’s Creativity Crisis, his review of Kim’s 2016 book, The Creativity Challenge: How to Recapture American Innovation. 

I have not read Kim’s book. I am sounding off out of anger at what I consider fluffy thinking about the arts, thinking that I encountered often when I was the Director of Education Programs for the Arts Council of Kern, (2003 to 2009) and when I had the honor of being an Advisory Board Member to the The Teaching Artist Research Project. (This first study of the phenomenon of the teaching artist was run out of the University of Chicago between 2007 and 2011 under Nick Rabkin.) I am angry because I strongly believe this fluffy well-intended thinking tends to infantilize artists and fetishize creativity.

Kim may not distinguish artists from creative people in her book. I assume that to her thinking, not all creative people are artists but that all artists are creative people. If this is true —and I think it is— then I wonder if Kim realizes the implication that nearly all human beings must therefor be creative people. I imagine that this would therefor render her argument pointless. But, again, I have not read her book. Nor do I intend to; I cannot think of how I could be taking her “Eight Signs of a Creative Person” out of context unless, as I say, they are the reviewer’s not Kim’s. My purpose however is not to review Kim’s books but to point out an example of this fluffy thinking. To be clear, my responses (in italics below) are responses on behalf of art makers not the larger set of creative people. —DNL 


Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.12.29 PMBig-picture-thinking: Creative people think abstractly, looking past the concrete details of the current situation and seeking new solutions. However, with their optimism and curiosity, they are sometimes seen as dreamy and unrealistic.

Everybody thinks abstractly. People of all walks of life learn to look “past the concrete details of the current situation [to seek] new solutions.” In the early 2000s there was an article in (I think) The Wall Street Journal entitled “the MFA is the New MBA.” It’s gist: Corporations are not looking for business majors to do business, they are looking for art majors to do business. It takes an MFA to sell a computer by encasing it in colored translucent plastic —that’s the reasoning. I do not agree that creative people are optimistic. We are like anybody else. Some of us are optimists. Others are not. Curiosity is such a feeble world. Cats, chimps and children are curious. For creative people, curiosity matures into a demand to know the truth. Truth against the world, as the druids said. That, in fact, has been our job at least as far back as the Mesolithic cave painters of Europe. That’s 32,000 years. I do agree that we are seen as dreamy and unrealistic.

Spontaneous: Creative individuals tend to be flexible and act fast on new opportunities, approaching them with an open mind and a playful perspective—which can come off as impulsive.

Yes, creative people are spontaneous. Often inflexibly so. We act as swiftly on new opportunities, however, as the next person. Because of our work, we tend to develop open minds. Playful? That’s neither here not there. I approach an opportunity like a hunter. I don’t want to kill, of course; I want to make. My mind is not open to any other possibility. When I was learning my craft, I used playfulness as a way to elude the rigidity of my immature mind. I am impulsive.

Playful: Creative people tend to be lighthearted and have a drive to explore the world. On the other hand, this can also be seen as mischievous.

I’m not a child. I know the world. I want you to know the world. That is what you ask me to do.

Resilient: Creative people can pick themselves up after a failure and bounce back from challenges, refocusing on new ways to overcome adversities. Sometimes, this comes across as combative.

We have no better abilities to pick ourselves up after failure than any other sort of person. We may in fact be less suited for this than others. We are makers. We cannot stop being makers. Eventually we have to get up. If we don’t, we give up or we die. And lots and lots of us do that every day. Many of us are proudly combative!

Autonomous: Creative people often strive for independence in their thoughts and actions, relying on intrinsic motivation to pursue their goals. At times, such individuals can seem out of control.

We don’t strive for independence. Like it or not, that’s where we find ourselves. At times, it is our job to be out of control. Dionysus is one of our forebears.

Defiant: Creative people have a tendency to reject existing norms and authorities in pursuit of their own goals. This allows them to see what others cannot see and develop solutions that push boundaries, which can seem rebellious.

We are interested only in making as a way to truth. We reject existing norms and authority if they are false, not because we are interested only in pursuing our own goals. We are not selfish like that. And yes, we see what others cannot see but, again, that is our job. We are society’s scouts. Our territory is the unknowable and the unseen which we communicate ritually, musically etc. etc. We are rebellious.

Risk-taking: Fueled by their optimism, many creative people are willing to forgo security in favor of uncertain rewards. To the average person, this may come across as reckless.

Average person? My God, what elitist thinking! [Is this really Kim’s thinking? Or does Ruiz impose it in his review? I don’t know.] Many so-called average people know a lot more about us, what we do and why, than we do. Optimism has nothing to do with it. We are determined. Most of us are wounded also. Perhaps all of us. The wound may be deep or ridiculous, obvious or secret; it doesn’t matter. Most of us begin with the delusion that our wound will be healed if not avenged by very certain rewards. Without such promise, who in their right mind would “ forgo security in favor of uncertain rewards?” [There is more to this. But not here.] Some of us take risks for the sake of taking risks. Not too many of us, I think.

Daydreaming: By daydreaming, creative individuals are able to envision new perspectives and solutions—but along the way, some of their ideas might seem delusional.

We don’t daydream! We are involved in what arts in education specialist call Deep Thinking. It is a specific brain activity. That’s where the heavy lifting takes place. Do not disturb us when we engage in Deep Thinking. Again,“new perspectives and solutions” is misleading. Old perspectives and solutions are just as valid. Since Truth is both our adversary and our belovéd, we may indeed get delusional along the way. Fortunately we have fellow creative people and many wise average people to help us. But many of us fall to our own delusions. No seeming about it. It is an occupational hazard.

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