What is creativity?

Thursday 5 November, 21.30 until 23.00, Maus Hábitos, Rua Passos Manuel 178, 4º Piso, 4000-382 Porto International Satellites

Tickets: €3, pay on the door. Attend this event and Public space: collective common or virtual reality? for €5.

It is claimed that we are living in an ‘Age of Creativity’. Researcher Richard Florida has identified the rise of a creative class, ‘whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content’. As one of the buzzwords du jour, the ‘creative’ tag is applied to the endeavours of architects and designers, but also the work of scientists, university professors and even those in the healthcare, business and finance and legal sectors. With policymakers keen to associate the economy, industry, education and skills with creativity, it’s perhaps no surprise to see the rise of what Charles Landry calls the Creative City.

The celebration of creativity, however, is accompanied by confusion over what makes us creative, and even what creativity is. In the past, experts often tied creative leaps to key moments in the development of society – for example, the realisation by Baroque masters of the sensuous qualities of music, mood and emotion that accompanied the Enlightenment revolution of intellectual thinking. Today, many argue for a wider, more timeless and perhaps more democratic understanding of creativity. Everyone, they say, has the capacity to be creative.

Another view of creativity goes back to the Italian physician Cesare Lombroso’s 1891 work The Man of Genius, which attempted to link creativity with neurosis, psychosis and other mental illnesses. Today, neuroscientists scan the brains of illustrious scientists and artists to ask why ‘so many of the world’s most creative minds’ are ‘among the most afflicted’. But to what extent can the science of the brain explain creativity? If creativity is inherited, does this rule out Edison’s notion that genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration?

If scientists look to our neurons for answers, then architects and urban designers often argue that the key influence on creativity is our environment. From eighteenth-century coffeehouses to the ‘creative clusters’ of the modern workplace, the most creative spaces, they say, are those that throw us together, creating interaction and chance meetings. But doesn’t that contradict the idea of the secluded genius who needs isolation and solitude in order to create? Can design cultivate creativity? Do we know how to encourage creativity or even what it is? Is it one of those abstract concepts that can mean everything and nothing all at once, even as it is widely debated?

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Maria José Goulão
professor of art history, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Porto

Tiago Guedes
director, Teatro Municipal do Porto

Carlos Martins
CEO, Opium lda

Alastair Donald
associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council

Produced by
Alastair Donald associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council
Recommended readings
What is the nature of creativity?

Can we find its roots in the human brain? And if so, can we boost our creative powers? (Podcast)

Ian Sample, Guardian, 31 July 2015

Secrets of the Creative Brain

A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.

Nancy C Andreasan, Atlantic, July 2014

The Age of Creativity

We are at the dawn of a new age – where nations are increasingly turning to creativity and design to achieve growth and success.

Sir John Sorrell, Arup, 6 January 2012

Can Creativity Be Taught?

Every great leader is a creative leader. If creativity can be taught how is it done?

August Tarak, Forbes, 22 May 2011

What is creativity?

Creativity surrounds all of us everyday and there are no uncreative people.

Bob Borson, Life of an Architect, 18 January 2011

Classroom Creativity

The reality of creativity is complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we’re distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules.

Jonah Lehrer, ScienceBlogs, 12 April 2010

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