He says, she says: What is creativity?

For our orientation week, I’ve invited Carolina Valdez-Miller and Simon C. Larter in to explore the topic “What is creativity?”

I’m fairly confident that this is the only guest post that will occur in the posters’ living room and include a bathrobe and generous amounts of vodka.

Ladies and gentlemen, read on.

Simon: *sips vodka* Evenin’, Carol.

Carol: Bleeding hell, Simon. You scared the wits out of me—you must have your ninja shoes on. *swipes Simon’s vodka and gulps it down in one swig*

Simon: Now that’s just not neighborly, hon. How am I supposed to have this discussion unlubricated?

Carol: Hm, I think you left “neighborly” behind when you entered my living room entirely unannounced (I will say nothing about your bathrobe. At four o’clock in the afternoon). Here. *hands Simon a jar of peanut butter and a spoon* How’s this for lubrication? Always helps me in a pinch. Protein is good for creativity, you know.

Simon: It’s the weekend. I’m allowed to be comfortable on the weekend. Don’t judge. Plus, I assumed when you said we should work on the post this weekend, you meant at your place. You didn’t? *takes bite of peanut butter* *immediately craves liquid refreshment*

Carol: Um, no need to eat all the peanut butter. I was sort of kidding about its positive effect on creativity, you know. [Grumbles: someone’s muse is apparently being stingy.]

Simon: *nom, nom* *licks spoon* *disappears to kitchen for glass of water* *returns* You drank my muse, darlin’. I’m making do with your substitutionary offering. *wipes lips with back of hand* Okay, then. Since you so kindly kick-started my creative juices, I’ll let you start the discussion. (I’m gentlemanly like that.) So, Carolina, what’s creativity?

Carol: Dude, how many times do I have to tell you? It’s Carol-ee-na, not Carol-eye-na. *rolls eyes* But, fine. Since you’re here―*eyes Simon’s bathrobe once again; clears throat*―might as well get started. Except…here’s the thing: I think creativity may very well be one of those terms that’s impossible to define. But you’re creative. Let’s see you give it a try.

Simon: You steal my vodka, I mispronounce your name…you know how it goes. Anyway, um…I was hoping you’d define it. Give me something to work with. Because I just can’t define creativity for everyone, only for me.

Carol: Well, that was my point: impossible to define. I don’t have a definition—certainly no set rules or formulas. This is the point of creativity, no? That there are no rules? BUT, I think, perhaps, I’m curious about your definition—for you. So, let’s start there, Jack.

Simon: Ha! Oh, well played, Carol. Fine. I suppose creativity, for me, has something to do with jettisoning inhibitions—feeling free to explore the ideas that come to me. Not worrying (while I’m writing, anyway) what people are going to think. That’s part of it, perhaps. You?

Carol: Hm. I’m fairly inhibition-free to begin with (no value judgments, kaythanks #moralshavenothingtodowithit), so while I agree that you must unburden yourself of inhibitions (if they are, uh, inhibiting you), I think surely, there must be more to it than that, Chuck.

Simon: (Chuck?) Well, of course there’s more to it than that. (And I wouldn’t presume to judge you, m’dear. You’re a saint.) I think creativity is also about openness, willingness to explore ideas, perspectives, possibilities.

Carol: (We can go back to Jack if you’d rather. Or Wilma?) Okay, so let’s say I have zero inhibitions—I’m entirely willing to explore all ideas, perspectives, and possibilities. (And thanks for your vote of confidence, but I’ll be honest: I’m not a saint. Yet. I’ve only just applied.) Am I now creative?

Simon: Nope. (But you might be endangering your potential sainthood.) No, I think creativity is more than simply a state of mind or mode of being. I think—since, um, “create” is part of the word (minus the “e,” but you know what I mean)—that creativity must be expressed. Something must come of it.

Carol: Ah, but no must-do’s in creativity. That’s my…non-rule. I would rather not assume that in order for creativity to exist, it must be expressed, at least not in a way visible to others. In fact, I’m thinking some rather creative things in my head right now. About you, actually. But entirely unexpressed, Roland (don’t assume my thoughts disqualify me from sainthood either).

Simon: (I’ve learned not to make assumptions about what women are thinking. Tends to get me in trouble.) Okay, I’ll grant you the point that creativity doesn’t have to be expressed. There are certainly no must-do’s that apply across the board. But for me (and you did ask about me), I don’t feel as though I’ve been creative unless I have something to show for it.

Carol: Yes, you’re right; I did ask about you, didn’t I? Annnnnnd, thanks for your personal definition. But let’s take it to another level, shall we? Let’s kick our own arses and try to define creativity in general. I’m just stubborn creative enough to give it a shot, Wilbur.

Simon: Your stubbornness creativity is legendary, Carol. Um…are we shooting for a definition we can both agree on? We only have 1,500 words, y’know.

Carol: Way to put on the pressure, Bart. Fine, then. We’ll just have to be succinct. Why don’t we start with a summary of what we have so far, and we’ll modify to suit the creative masses? But be brief. 140 characters or less. Good luck.

Simon: Oh, that’s just evil. (That does not count toward the 140 characters.) Fine. Here goes: Creativity has no rules. Inhibitions? Producing something? Optional. Openness? Probably required. That was 97 characters. Eat your heart out, Twitter.

Carol: (Chomp chomp) Well done. I crown you King of Twitterland. But…inhibitions are optional? Hm. Interesting. I won’t say it’s impossible to have inhibited creativity, but wait. Wouldn’t inhibitions sort of contradict the whole spirit of required openness?

Simon: I say no, good lady. I give you, as an example, like, every Victorian-era author, like, ever. Were they inhibited about some things? Yes. Did they write wonderful novels? Yes. (Well, some of them, anyway. Oh, okay, a few of them. You get the idea.) We can be inhibited, partially, and still create great art. (I also give you Michelangelo’s David’s…um…. Okay, I think you know where I was going with that.)

Carol: Puhleeeeeeeze. I did not mean inhibitions of moral codes of behavior (remember #moralityhasnothingtodowithit). In fact, it was the immense uninhibited nature of their creativity—the unleashing of creative juices, so to speak—that perhaps allowed Victorian and Renaissance era artists (et cetera, et cetera) to create such masterpieces within the confines of the moral codes of their day (well, and not get stoned to death or thrown into Bedlam).

Simon: Oh, well said! *applauds (non-ironically)* Some artists are self-inhibited, though, y’know. Some writers won’t touch sex, some won’t touch drug use–we all have things we won’t write. Those are inhibitions, no? BUT…I do agree that a large part of creativity is working magic with the material we’re given, and within the constraints placed upon us.

Carol: Yes, I see where you’re going with this. I write YA, and even though it leans towards the edgier side of the genre, I’m still limited by my audience. But these aren’t so much inhibitions as they are constraints. Still, I agree that some writers/artists are merely inhibited by their own…um, inhibitions? Anyway—wait. I just agreed with you. Whoa. Backing up (come on, Henry, our arguments give me a reason to rub my hands together in glee on the darkest of days). Sooooooo, I’m going to debate a bit (*arches eyebrow*): are they really inhibitions or merely lack of desire to work with certain topics? Perhaps our disagreement is not so much (any more) with the definition of creativity as it is over the concept of inhibition? Stop me if I’m opening up a whole new argument here. We can always save that for Merrilee’s workshop on inhibitions.

Simon: You’re opening up a whole new argument here. This is me stopping you. (God! That felt a little bit good. Uh…I really shouldn’t stream-of-consciousness like that. Sorry.) Look, I think my point still stands: creativity—whether it be in the arts, teaching, the sciences, whatever—is doing something new and interesting within the constraints placed upon us, whether those be societal, personal, emotional, or otherwise. (Noting, of course, that “new” and “interesting” are awfully subjective concepts.) Am I right? Eh, comrades?

Carol: (Don’t get too excited, Barnaby—I gave you permission to stop me). You know, I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with you. And I would like to point out that your use of stream-of-consciousness as a verb was wicked creative. So, in the spirit of agreement, I will merely modify your definition.

1.  “Doing” can be either an act (written or unwritten) or a thought, expressed or otherwise.

2.  Interesting = NOT ORDINARY (although ordinary can be elevated to the level of extraordinary by the way it is acted, written, or thought [expressed or otherwise]).

3. We assume that by definition we actually mean non-definition. BECAUSE…

to define an abstract concept is to give it concrete boundaries. And, as we seem to both agree, creativity is not something that can be bound.

Otherwise, I agree with you 100%. Mostly.

Simon: Whoa. We’ve pissed off some people in Hell. It just got chilly, and they didn’t pack their parkas. I’d, um, add one modification to your modification. It’s just a reiteration of the “subjective” thing I said above. Since there’s no objective definition of creativity (that we, or anyone, for that matter, can agree on), creativity is in the eye of the beholder (who may or may not also be the creator).

I’m not sure if I inserted enough qualifying parentheticals in that last sentence. If I were more creative, I might’ve been able to pack in a few more. Oh, well.

So where are we? Have we (dare I say it) agreed?

Carol: Why, Simon, who am I to say you’re not creative with parentheticals? That is the beauty of our remarkable non-definition: no one can tell us we’re not creative (eye of the beholder and all that).

Simon: Good God! You used my real name! We must be agreeing, then. Um…well, if we’ve reached a consensus (albeit a tenuous one, which additional commentary might rend asunder [And yes, I just said “asunder.” Deal.]), then I think this is the part where I let you have the last word….

Carol: Oh, but you wound me. I was not agreeing with you by calling you by your given name. It was a complete slip-up: I have resorted to the uncreative use of your real name because my inhibitions are kicking in—or rather, I’m feeling the constraints of exhaustion due to guest post collaboration. But I shall think up lovely, creative new names for you in my head. Tomorrow.

Simon: (Letting you have the last word….)

Carol: (Taking it.)

Carolina Valdez Miller has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and a mostly finished MA in Literature from Purdue University (where she garnered a number of awards and massive school loan debt).

She grudgingly taught writing to underappreciative college freshman, unaware that she was actually gathering information on the strange behaviors and mating rituals of young adults in preparation for writing YA fantasy novels, of which she’s completed two.

You can find Carol at her blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Simon Larter graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Civil Engineering. His work has appeared in Per Contra, LitNImage and Flashquake. He lives with his wife and three children in New Jersey. He blogs at Constant Revisions, and probably wastes too much time on Twitter, when he should really be working on his novel.

Thank you Carol and Simon!  Now to the participants: what do you think?  Do you agree/disagree with the analysis?  What are your thoughts on inhibitions and creative “rules”?


21 thoughts on “He says, she says: What is creativity?

  1. Pingback: Creativity workshop: the end, and thank you | Not Enough Words

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