Creativity Every Single Day

Where does creativity come from? How can society encourage creativity? How can citizens make creative contributions to our shared life?
06/27/2013 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In our time, there is a great deal of spirited talk about creativity. There are new programs and whole creativity departments in universities; there are polls and surveys, a myriad of award and prizes, tests and exercises, all intended to identify and extol creativity. Creativity is a concept with deep meaning for us. It is a hope, I think.

My friend, Professor Howard Gardner has said, "You can be creative in any field." Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has interviewed writers, musicians and architects about their Creativity, and also engineers, chemists, businessmen and women, social reformers, historians, physicians. These Professors find that Creativity is uncommon, but that it is also universal. As Prof. Gardner says, it can occur in any sphere. It can animate and enrich any aspect of our lives. It can help us and it can surprise us.


Creativity abounds. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Where does creativity come from? How can society encourage creativity? How can citizens make creative contributions to our shared life? Traditional answers to such questions have centered on the singular, often isolated genius working alone in a garret or a lab, cut off from others. Creativity has been identified with these specially endowed individuals who are just not like the rest of us. But that portrait of the Creative individual is being challenged today.

Prof. Csikszentmihalyi finds that creative individuals do what they do "because it's fun" and because they simply love the work. He finds that rather than retreating, Creative individuals gravitate toward activity, toward places where change is taking place, where ideas are in discussion. They look for spark, not solitude. They want to make contributions to the world, not merely express their own ideas. This is a vastly different idea about Creativity, and it leads to very different ideas about how Creativity comes about, how it happens, whether it can be made to happen.


In fact, according to Prof. Gardner, creativity can be learned. He describes three kinds of "minds" that matter: First, the "disciplined mind," that masters information; Second, the "synthesizing mind," that utilizes information; Third, the "creative mind"--innovative, inventive, bold, the mind able to start ideas and make change. For Gardner, schools are the agencies that can provide this discipline and synthesizing skill and, importantly, schools also free Creativity. In Studio in a School, a program I founded in the New York City public schools, we have learned that creative classrooms grow creative people. Studio schoolchildren learn to confront and solve problems. Studio in a School teachers exhibit creativity every single day in the work they do, inspiring children to dream and to dare.


Every single day, those of us who care about art--or collect it or look at it--exhibit creativity ourselves. In my own life, I share my home with works by artists like Elizabeth Murray, Martin Puryear, Jackie Windsor and so many others, whose creativity is clear and fresh and compelling; the works break through the usual and they inspire creativity, they inspire responses and understanding. The art around us provides creativity every single day. I have the same sense of discovery and exhilaration from objects of design and everyday use--I am inspired by the buildings in my city, by park greenery and dazzling store windows, by the jaunty strollers and umbrellas and billboards I walk past. Just strolling our streets, we encounter Creativity every single day.


The news about creativity, the ideas about it in our time, stimulate imagination and ideas, and help us think about the contributions we can make to the places and people around us. I am proud that the artists and teachers and children that I work with, the designers and storekeepers, the park employees and pedestrians I encounter, are all participating in a Creative New York--making it or enjoying it, knowing that Creativity is shared, not sheltered, and that it can be found wherever we look for it.