Exploring Creativity. Our Existential Imperative


In the Beginning:

A few years ago I taught a course called Understanding Creativity at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. It was a culmination of many years of research into the concept of creativity from all perspectives: from philosophical to physiological. By all counts it was a successful course and a popular one. I think because it was built from the ground up with passion for the subject and breadth of the way it connected life to creativity. So with some soft kicks from a number of former students and non students I decided to write this blog. My goal is to share what I know, learn from my readers about their experience through their comments, answer questions posed and enjoy this journey together again. I hope to help you discover your innate creativity, feed it, grow it and use it in all facets of your life.

From very early in life I’ve had a very active curiosity about human beings and how they function, and I made lots of observations about human behavior. And in observing my own observations I noticed something curious: That I was very curious about everything. I noticed that my curiosity led to observation and then let to understanding and then more curiosity and so on and so on ad nauseam. I observed things, events, people, myself, and anything else that was observable. And, many things that were not observed at all.

Once I settled on studying psychology, which never stopped me from studying everything else too, I focus on and worked with people of all ages, of all backgrounds, and a variety of settings and I’ve come to notice that human beings seem to have a force that compels them towards creativity. I’ve come to realize that creativity is an existential human imperative. Just like thirst, hunger or any other biological drive, we humans find creativity as critical necessity and pursue it with whatever means possible. And it seems at the core of creativity is curiosity. The process of observing and asking why, why not or how. 

When I was thinking about the idea of just what a question is I started asking myself what the word means. I noticed that there is an action word imbedded in every word that ends in TION. Imagination means to imagine, creation means to create, production means something is produced. So, what does question involve? Well a question, once asked, requires you to embark on a quest.

The Gift and the Curse:

So, then, what is a quest? The word quest implies a determined, purposeful, adventure-filled, frightening, risky, meandering and failure-laced process of discovery. An answer leads to another answer, a discovery to another unknown, success comes from, and leads to, failure and frustration. Ultimately, the insight that settles in, uncomfortably at times, is that a question leads to more question and knowing leads to unknowing. What a wonderful, unending tale of existence.  It is in this process that creativity roots and flourishes. 

Can you see the curse? We cannot help ourselves but to keep adding to, changing, “improving” whatever it is we discover. A perpetual pursuit to become better sometimes leads to becoming worse, but we keep going: we will become Gods.  And in the end, with every success comes a lot of regrets, disappointment, and I-wish-I-had…s.  Have you ever done anything you were proud of and liked a lot only to see it the next day, week or month and think of a hundred things you “should” have done differently? Everyone has.  Everyone. This is the curse part of creativity. We can’t help rethinking things.

So we lived in caves, then we made huts, we then made buildings from bricks and then we made these:  Why?


Necessity IS NOT the mother of all inventions, Creativity IS.

You have heard the old adage that necessity gives birth to invention. Its just not true. Creativity starts with WHAT-IF and WHY-NOT questions that both lead to and generate more imagination.

Once imagined, our compelling force to pursue the realization of our imagination to its completion.  We make what we imagine. We can’t help it.  Sometimes it takes several generations or even centuries to make that happen.  I am certain the original humans looked up at the stars and worked hard to reach them. They asked: what if I can get to that shiny thing up above.  And that quest passed down generation after generation to finally make it real.  Everything we have discovered and accomplished has started with that original spark.  Do we really need make up? Do we need fancy dishes?  Did we invent receipies out of necessity? Nope. We are nourished just fine with basic foods, clothed perfectly well with without fashion trends and certainly do not need little hats for snakes.  But we have them.  We invented them not out of necessity but to satisfy our creative imperative.

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The Trajectory of Creativity:

Once made real, whatever we have made or built starts out as a luxury, then it becomes a  necessity and then deteriorates into, well, ‘meh’. Once it becomes ‘meh’ it has to be “improved.” The process of improving things leads to all kinds of questions, discoveries and advances.  And off we go again on another quest.  We call this process innovation: Making anew.

Next Blog:  But I am not an artist. Meanwhile, ask your questions, comment and help build this blog into an interactive process.