Doing Artsy Stuff Isn’t “Creativity”

I’ve talked about creativity before, in the context of the OODA loop, purposeful practice (a form of metacognition that is the opposite of “flow”), and mental illness. Another part of creativity is being recognized as useful by the field of a domain. If you invent a new type of hot water heater, that is being creative. If you’re chess technique allows you to rise in international chess competitions, that’s creativity. If you cure cancer but don’t tell anyone, that’s just wasting your time.

So this article is somewhat off-base:

Why Do Men Share Their Creative Work Online More Than Women? | Scientific Blogging
A recent Northwestern University study has a surprising results – substantially more men are likely to share their creative work online than women even though both genders engage in creative activities at essentially equal rates.

As it confuses artsy-stuff (making music, taking photographs, etc.) with creativity. Certainly artsy-stuff can be a form of practice, therapy, or good old recreation. Perhaps it can lead to creativity one day when you share it with others. But if you sit on it, you’re enjoying yourself, not being creative.

7 thoughts on “Doing Artsy Stuff Isn’t “Creativity””

  1. Great post, dan.

    When I was younger I was always encouraged to do “creative” things, which at that time meant figuring out new ways to be a computer geek. I never was an artsy fellow, but thankfully ideas of creativity never meant fingerpainting and such when I was growing up. Creativity was a much broader thing than music, canvas, and sketchpads.

    One of the things I like to bring up with my good liberal nutcase friends back in Madison is how I’m now involved in the “arts” of war. That war can actually be a creative persuit, and how some conceptions of peace can be ossifying and dull, really gets them going. I think Boyd had something to say about all that in “Destruction and Creation.”

  2. Hmmm. Creativity being of value on in a social context. Hmmmm.

    What if the people with whom you share your creative efforts are not able to accurately assess the intrinsic merit of what you have made or discovered?

    Vincent van Gogh’s paintings now sell for upwards of $ 80 million dollars but in his lifetime despite a prodigious artistic output he often had to get by with financial help from his family. Many artists, scientsts, musicians and inventors found cold receptions from their contemporaries to later gain posthumous vindication – sometimes by chance.

    Perhaps you need a “Pearls before swine” caveat. 🙂

  3. Working from zen’s comment, just because one sits on one’s own work during one’s own lifetime does not mean that one’s artifacts will not endure and be deemed creative ex post. Even if you sit on “it”, “it can lead to creativity one day”, as you say.

  4. Smitten,


    I think the public schools do a great disservice by channeling high-performing kids into arts projects. One advantage the “geeks” have had is by operating under the social radar of teachers in schools, they were able to actually gain skills without those distractions.


    What if the people with whom you share your creative efforts are not able to accurately assess the intrinsic merit of what you have made or discovered?

    Their work becomes creative after they die.

    Consider attractiveness as an analogy. Attractiveness is a a product not just of the person being appraised, but also of those around her. So medeval depiction of “beautiful” women tend toward the fleshy, while likewise contemporary standards of beauty would have struck those same artists as emaciated and wretched.


    Excellent question!

    Creativity exists with respect to the field, or judges, of some domain, or social world. If a field reads your tutorials, adopts your methods, and so on, that certainly is creative!


    Well said!

  5. I forgot to comment on Smitten Eagle’s comment: as a “cardboard” war artist (gamer) myself, I couldn’t agree more with the creative-peace-through-artful-war notion. ;-\

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