Nero and Burning of Rome
Rumor has it that Nero, the Roman Emperor, burned Rome and hoped that the traumatic experience, of watching the great city burn, would inspire him to produce great music. However many thinkers including British philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell, believe that a serene and peaceful frame of mind is the breeding ground of creative thought.
Definition of Creativity
Every scientific and technological breakthrough – from inventing the wheel to the wireless phone – was an act of creativity. Webster’s dictionary defines creativity as, “involving cognitive activity that results in a new way of viewing some problem or situation, and which is not necessarily restricted to practicality”. This definition of creativity, even though is fairly accurate, it does not give us any great insight into what creativity is. Now, my favorite definition of creativity comes from one of the greatest creative minds of all times, Pablo Picasso. He says, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”.
What Picasso is saying here is that a child’s perception is free of all forms of prejudices, attitudes and opinions. A child sees things, essentially, as they are. And as the child grows his/her perceptions are shaped by age, gender, race, past experiences, religion, culture, geography history etc
How do we become creative?
Once again, we have to look to Picasso first for an answer to this question. Picasso goes on to say that, “It takes a long time to be young”. By this he means that it is not easy to get rid of all the filters – prejudices, values judgments, professional dispositions, attitudes and opinions that we have acquired over a life time. These pre-conceptions impede us from perceiving the world as it is. It requires great conscious effort to free ourselves from the shackles of our cultural prejudices and to perceive the world as is. This clear vision is the first step towards creativity.
Maslow and the hierarchy of needs
Another great thinker that comes to mind when discussing creativity is Abraham Maslow, whose theory of “The Hierarchy of Needs” revolutionized the concept of human motivation. According to his theory, humans are driven by needs that fit in a hierarchy – at the lowest level lie the physiological needs such as food, water and other biological necessities. Next in the hierarchy lie the need for safety and security, and then the need for a sense of community and love. Fourth in the hierarchy comes the need for self-esteem and then finally Self Actualization. By the very nature of the hierarchy the lower needs take precedence over the higher needs. And as each need is satisfied the person will experience needs at the next higher level and is motivated to fulfill that need. At the final level, during self actualization, the individual exploits his creative potential and is true to his nature.
However, Maslow admits that there are exceptions to the hierarchy of needs, “There are apparently innately creative people in whom; the drive to creativeness seems to be more important than any other counter determinant. Their creativeness might appear not as self actualization released by basic satisfaction but in spite of lack of basic satisfaction”.
Emerson and Edgar Rice Borough
In this context, incidents from the lives of two great personalities come to mind: According to legend, when Ralph Waldo Emerson came home in despair after being fired from his job, his wife is known to have handed him a paper and pen and told him to write. Thus began his now famous essays. Also, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a failure at every job he tried. Finally at the age of 36 he secretly wrote his first Tarzan book, without even telling his wife. Tarzan stories became bestsellers and were later made into movies. Today, Tarzan is one of the indispensable icons of popular culture.
Bertrand Russell on Creativity
Bertrand Russell contends that most creative minds led relatively quiet lives, lacking in excitement, and they do not travel too much. He believed that traveling or migrating from one place to another is a stressful experience and not conducive to creativity. He points out the examples of Socrates, who never travelled outside Athens and Karl Marx, who spent most of his life in London’s British Museum.
Creativity as an end unto itself
Creative persons do not use creativity as a means to an end; to them the creative undertaking is an end unto itself. These people are free from or oblivious to all their basic needs and have an open mind that perceives the world without any preconceptions. This person usually has a strong want to express this creative potential. And while the artist or writer is absorbed in creative activity this person does not feel hunger or thirst nor is this person tired or sleepy. At times the creative impulse will inject a burst of energy and a single-minded obsession with the creative activity such that the writer or artist will work for hours and days without seeming to tire.
Creativity – work and play
You may ask what kinds of people are capable of these great feats of creativity. Can I be a Leonardo or a Michelangelo, you ask? Again a clue to the answer to these questions comes from Pablo Picasso. He states that, “Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time”. All great creative minds loved their work. For them there was no difference between work and play. Their daily activities were in complete harmony and so they were happy and they were very creative.