Creativity at the Opening of the 21st Century

Article excerpt

At the beginning of the 21st century, creativity is changing, both in the way we conceptualize and understand it and in the practices of creativity. In this article, we summarize the emerging changes and articulate their outlines, drawing on creativity research, popular culture, the "networked" society, and a variety of other sources.

Creativity is a fascinating topic, and we would like to introduce this issue of Creative Nursing by outlining some of the remarkable changes in the discourses about and practices of creativity that have occurred over the last 30 years. Creativity has not only been a topic of popular interest-always somewhat mysterious- but also the subject of much mythologizing and misinformation (Berkun, 2007; Melucci, 1994; Montuori & Purser, 1995).

In the first decades of the 21st century, there seems little doubt that the world is in the throes of a remarkable transformation (Morin & Kern, 1999; Ogilvy, 1989; Slater, 2008). The complexity, pluralism, and uncertainty of life and the rate of change appear overwhelming. We are arguably in the middle of the Future Shock discussed by Toffler (1984). For the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, "solid" modernity has become "liquid" modernity: Everything is fluid, changing; there is no predictability, no certainty, no stability; and human beings have to become flexible, adaptable, capable of working under conditions of great uncertainty (Bauman, 2005, 2007, 2008). Sardar argues that we are in postnormal times, an "in between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really makes sense" (p. 435). In this period of transition, this postnormal age, creativity is changing, too. The way we understand creativity is changing, the way we practice and express our creativity is changing, and this new creativity is in turn influencing how we are changing. Indeed, creativity is increasingly viewed as an avenue for exploring the adaptive responses needed in this transitional period, from individuals, communities and organizations to educational institutions, governments and social systems.

In this short article, we offer a brief historical contextualization of creativity to illustrate these shifts. We point to emerging directions in creativity research, how the new creativity is influencing social change, and some of the implications of a more relational creativity.


In the West, the concept of creativity as we know it today emerged in the Renaissance (Tonelli, 1973). It coincided with the birth of humanism and individualism (Wittkower, 1973). It blossomed with the genius myth of romanticism in the late 18th century (Goehr, 1992). Until the 1980s, research on creativity in the West was situated mostly in the discipline of psychology. It focused primarily on what were known as the three Ps: Person, Process, and Product (Runco, 2007). In the romantic mythology underlying this atomistic, individualistic view, the creative person was mostly a lone, often eccentric, genius (Montuori & Purser, 1995). The unit of analysis was almost exclusively the exceptional or "eminent" individual.

The "how" of creativity occurred exclusively "inside" this individual, the creative person. The classic image of the creative process was of a light bulb going on over the creator's head during the "Eureka" moment. The creative process was viewed as a solitary one, initially with mystical or divine sources, and then increasingly associated with unusual mental states and psychopathology. The "what" or creative product was associated with "big bang," earth-shaking insights and products (Montuori & Purser, 1999b; Runco, 2004, 2007). The "where" of creativity was confined to specific domains, mainly the arts and sciences. We can see this in the great traditional exemplars of creativity, almost entirely male and almost entirely made up of artists and scientists such as Van Gogh, Einstein, Mozart, and Feynman (Barron, Montuori, & Barron, 1997). …


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