Creativity: A Social Approach

By Cropley, Arthur | Roeper Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview
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Creativity: A Social Approach


Cropley, Arthur, Roeper Review


Creativity has frequently been treated as a form of self-expression or a way of understanding or coping with life that is intimately connected with personal dignity, expression of one's inner being, self-actualization, and the like (e.g., Maslow, 1973; May, 1976; Rogers, 1961). Moustakis (1977) summarized the individualistic approach to creativity by seeing it as the pathway to living your own life your own way. Barton (1969) even concluded that creativity requires resistance to socialization, and Burkhardt (1985) took the theme of the individual against society further by arguing that the creative individual must fight against society's pathological desire for sameness. Sternberg and Lubart (1995) called this fight "defying the crowd," and labeled the tendency of certain creative individuals to resist society's pressure to conform "contrarianism."

Although it may not have been the intention of the writers just mentioned, creativity theory has thus sometimes involved "the glorification of individuals" (Boden, 1994, p. 4), and creativity has sometimes been treated as asocial or even antisocial in origin, purpose, content, and extent. Emphasis on the individual has meant that promoting creativity in the classroom has often been seen as fostering the growth of individual children according to their specific talents and needs (e.g., McLeod & Cropley, 1989). Among other things, this has led some teachers to an uneasy feeling that special educational provision for creative or otherwise gifted children is unfair or even socially divisive (e.g., Rader, 1976; Weiler, 1978). This paper's argument is that this is not the case.

The Importance of Products

Products constitute the public face of creativity: Thus, they must be included in an examination of creativity from a social point of view. The idea of product should be understood in a broad way. Products are often tangible, and may take the form of works of art, musical compositions, or written documents, or of machines, buildings, or other physical structures such as bridges and the like. They can also be intangible although relatively specific, such as plans and strategies in business, manufacturing, government and similar areas. Finally, they can consist of more general thoughts or ideas-systems for conceptualizing the world--as in philosophy, mathematics, or indeed all reflective disciplines.

Over the years various authors, such as Cropley (1967) and Albert (1990), have suggested restricting the study of creativity to person and process, arguing that products are too difficult to look at from a psychological point of view, for instance because of the instability of social judgments of products. However, the products of creativity are of particular interest in the present context, because it is largely through them that creativity achieves an impact on the social environment. Indeed, even in early writings in the modern era many writers emphasized the necessity of including products in discussions (e.g., Clifford, 1958; Gordon, 1961; Rossman, 1931). Guilford himself (e.g., 1950) referred to the need for creativity to lead to something useful. More recently, the emphasis on creative products was put with particular vigor by Bailin (1988, p. 5): "The only coherent way in which to view creativity is in terms of the production of valuable products." For teachers this means that it is necessary to consider not just the person and the process of generation of novelty but also the products of these two factors.

The Social Approach to Creativity

The social approach was visible when Rhodes (1961, p. 305) added the fourth "P" (press; i.e., environment) to the "three Ps" of creativity: person, product, process. Since Rhodes, creativity increasingly has been seen as a social phenomenon. Csikszentmihalyi (1999, p. 315) put it very clearly: "Original thought does not exist in a vacuum." The non-vacuum factor he had in mind was the surrounding society, and especially "social agreement" which is "one of the constitutive elements of creativity, without which the phenomenon would not exist" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p.

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