Whenever there is talk of economic recovery, growth, educational reform, or employment the word ‘creativity’ is never far. Yet as our understanding of creativity shifts over the centuries, so too does our perception of the ‘creative’ type. Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From states:
“If we want to understand where good ideas come from, we have to put them in context.”
Similarly, if we want to understand from whom good ideas come–or at least, are perceived to come from–we must look at the bigger picture. And the below is a brief attempt to do just that: to take a wander through the history of creative types, starting from the Medieval period and selectively making our way through to today while keeping in the back of our minds where we may turn next.
- Up until the mid-to-late Medieval period (10-15th centuries), the divine was often thought to be the main creator and all human innovation was perceived as derivative of Him. It was not until the late 15th century that individuals began to get credit for creative works; for instance, artists’ signatures appeared on paintings and the patent system was invented in Venice.
– During the Renaissance (circa 1400-1600), characteristics of melancholy began to be associated with the creative ‘type’. However, despite the fact that creatives such as artists, musicians and actors were generally given recognition for their work, they were also regarded as members of society’s lower classes.
– By the 19th century, society recognized and prized certain creative individuals. During this period of time, and along with the rise of the celebrity ‘creative,’ also emerged the association of illness or madness with creativity. While some famous creatives such as Van Gogh certainly did exhibit genuine signs of mental illness, many other budding artists, authors and entrepreneurs often pretended to be mad in order to exude creativity’.
– Today, people of the likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are usually thought of as the epitome of the ‘creative’ type. They stand at the foggy intersection of creativity (the birthing of an idea) and innovation (the successful implementation of that idea) and frequently come armed with technological prowess and business value. The modern creative type is presented as an exemplar of success and is regarded as an asset to society; one which is to be cultivated and to serve as a competitive driver of the economy.
– Tomorrow’s creative: everyone?
With the proliferation of tools for mass collaboration, the rise of the prosumer and the quickening pace of production and demand, creativity seems to be an ever more dispersed activity. Furthermore, organizations and scholars alike are increasingly pointing toward the creative process, context and team over the creative individual as the real seat of creativity (Sawyer, 2011).
In just over 500 years, the creative ‘type’ has undergone numerous and notable transformations: from being given no special recognition to blossoming into a key economic driver. Nonetheless, as we can see by some of the historic examples of creativity, it would appear as though the mass perception of the creative type is influenced by the successful creative prototypes as well as the prevailing economic imperatives. It would also appear that our understanding of creativity and the creative type will be subject to further change.
For more information, see: Keith Sawyer’s Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation (2011), Oxford University Press.