Thursday, February 9, 2012

Creativity . . . (Considered)

Philosophy, with its general lack of empirical data, relies on definition for analysis. Ideas are clearly and precisely defined. Once defined, said ideas are subjected to various forms of analytic style ( i.e. logical, common-sensical, phenomenological, etc). More often than not, philosophers end up with very few neat and concise definitions. While "triangle" is aptly summed up in a sentence, "mind" requires an as yet uncompleted literature. All of this is to say that life and ideas are very complex. Complex, yet not unapproachable. In these posts, we are challenged to define and defend our ideas about the ontology of creativity. Furthermore, we have all been armed with a rough and ready psychological definition of creativity to help focus our musings. In my blog posts I plan to break down our provided definition. Is creativity defined by novel-ness and appropriateness? What does it mean to be "novel"? What exactly is "appropriate"? At first glance, the psychological definition of creativity looks as though it itself could use some defining. In addition to these musings, I am going to make a challenge to the reader. I hope to explore how alterations in perspective on context can lead to a greater conformity in understanding creativity and judging creative acts. Shall we begin. . .

It strikes me that being novel is both very important and potentially boring. As I write this, words are being represented in patterns and pixels of which the universe has never witnessed before. While this blog post is novel, its novel-ness is rather boring. (Possibly also the first paragraph) In the highly relativistic sense above, novelty rejects judgement and is philosophically dull. The rejection of judgement stems from hazy evaluations of newness. Is being new a good in and of itself? If newness equals goodness, then every moment is a good. If every moment is good then how do we determine which moment is better? Was the moment when my cat died a good moment that was significantly worse than the good moment I first played spin the bottle? These questions smack of triviality and pedantic semantics. Newness or novelty strikes me as better considered as a matter of fact. My thoughts are new. That is a fact. The newness provides little valuable information for evaluating the merit of my ideas.

Being appropriate or useful seems more readily put to a continuum. Some things are practically useful, say shoes. Shoes keep my feet warm while sparing me cuts, bruises, and fungal infection. I really like that about shoes. Progressing further on the continuum, wine has intermediate practicality. Wine often tastes wonderful, quenches thirst, and lubricates the most stiff humanity has to offer. Clearly, wine does some useful things but it is nowhere near as practical as a good pair of shoes. At the opposite extreme of the continuum is something like art. Art is by its very nature useless. To be sure, arguments could be made about life enriching mind/soul expansion; yet at the end of the day, art will not keep my feet warm. This continuum of useful-ness is perplexing for me. Art is very important to me and I like having it in my life. Furthermore, I like that art is useless. Art, for me, is humanity at play simply to play. The uselessness acts as a facet of art that leads to differing and unique methods of approach and appreciation. Similar to novelty, appropriateness or utility strikes me as a quality which, in and of itself, does not provide much information for judgement. Sure, a sharp blade is a multi-functional tool with varied uses but sharpness and bladed-ness does not allow me to make a full judgement of the chef's knife. A final observation on utility regards how it is valued. Whoever invented shoes should have a statue in every city, town, and shire. Why? Shoes are useful and were at one point novel. I have yet to see a representation of that faceless hominid that invented shoes. I do, however, see statues of poets, visual artists, and warriors. Humanity, for reasons I am just now beginning to not understand, values some very useless behavior. To clarify, value of creation seems to correlate inversely with being mundane. The more practical and useful a creation is, the less it is held to be that ethereal example of human greatness.

The video above exemplifies what I mean by the "shoe" end of the useful continuum.  When I first saw this video, I actually cried.  The first thing that struck me was the sheer metaphor of it all.  Bringing light to darkness.  The illumination of the human condition.  What impacted later was how this was very creative.  Re-tasking occurs for both the concepts of bottle and garbage.  The novelty is clear.  Bottles become 50 watt light bulbs.  The appropriateness and utility are enormous.  Poor communities are provided with cost saving products that noticeably improve life.  Cooking, reading, communing indoors becomes a practical and accessible day to day situation.

As I looked into this, I found that the creation of this method came not from the Philippines but from Brazil.  Alfredo Moser, an engineer designed this because of a power outage.  Briefly, Moser's shop lost electricity due to a terrible storm.  Not being content to take an indefinite holiday, Moser developed a way to focus sunlight into his work space while also keeping out the elements.  He solved a practical and mundane problem by creatively re-purposing garbage.  His solution is simple, elegant, and highly useful.  I would also argue that the creative product is boring, or at least not glamorous.  Garbage with water and bleach in it glued to a hole in a ceiling.  Not really the stuff of Holywood is it?  Yet, this stands as one of the most touching and amazing things I have seen in the last four months.  Why?

The gravity of this creation is appreciated most from a specific context.  On the level of nuts and bolts creation, this example is underwhelming.  Nearly anyone on the planet could have come up with it.  From the context of specific application, the product reveals some limitations.  Clearly, this innovation would not help much in the ceiling of the first floor of a two story house.  In the context of mechanism to effect drastic community change, this creation truly shines (sorry, I couldn't resist).  Moser used creativity to bring an oft taken for granted facet of life to a community that lacked it.  He provided the means for unknown masses of people to live a life more to their liking.  Does he deserve credit?  Probably not.  The light bottle was a means to an end.  It just so happens that a mundane creation held within it the potential to raise the standard of life for thousands of people.  This story stands as my first attempt to demonstrate how context is integral to appreciation and judgement of creativity.

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