Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 103! Resources for a Critical Approach to Creativity and Individualism...
Good Morning once-individuals,
It is crazy, but the summer – at least as we think about it, is almost over!
We still have a few summer type trips planned and adventures happen all year, but the seasons are shifting and we are closing in on the September equinox.
A couple of days ago was the second full moon of August (a Blue Moon) – here in New Jersey it was a clear night and the moon was radiant.
But, do you remember the first one?
For Iain there was a late night hike involved – to a remote beach to watch the moon rise over the islands on the north eastern edge of the pacific. That one was summer:
Earlier in the summer as we were planning out newsletters, this last week of August was conceived of as the last of the “summer newsletters” – next week we will begin a series on “systems”. Our summer newsletter series over July and August were planned as being more of a review – we have looked back at our last 100 newsletters, offered summer reading recommendations, alongside an issue on summer creative practices (which are worth adapting anytime) and wrapping up our longer series of newsletters on Affordances with “Resources for Affordances”.
This week as the last of our “summer review” series, we wanted to do a newsletter that takes a critical look at, and offers resources to counter, what we feel is one of the biggest errors in approaching creativity. And this is the historical “western” focus on the mental, internal, conceptual and individual as being where we find and activate creativity.
Part of what prompted this newsletter is that over the summer, we have been presenting and workshopping a lot on creativity and creative practices. In the discussion that are central to this work we saw a familiar pattern: Creativity is almost always brought up as being primarily connected to humans, individualism, ideas, the mind, immateriality, art and artists.
Why do we currently equate creativity with the mind, ideas, individualism, and the arts – and what is the problem with this?
Do we equate creativity with the mind ideas and individualism because there is a natural connection between the content of Individual minds and Creativity?
That might be ok as a hypothesis, but it needs to be critically explored in the light of both history and research.
Ultimately everything has a history – even creativity, individuality, and art – things that so many imagine to always have been in existence.
The most common thing that the study of history reveals to us is that most of what we think to be ancient, universal and just “natural” is in fact of a much more recent and complex origin. And this is the case with creativity, individualism, the mind centered approach, and art. We need to understand this history so as not to be so quickly seduced by the tropes, habits and language of ideation, individualism and an exclusive human centered creativity. So this week we are sharing a number of great articles and books that critically deconstruct these problematic assumptions and tell the complex story of their development.
But these criticisms are not reducible to historical arguments, the problem is fundamentally that these approaches misrepresent what creativity is and how we participate in its processes. Creativity is not an individual idea centric phenomena. Our participation in creative processes is always an emergent collaborative practice where materials, and embodied logics at multiple scales play a critical role.
We have written extensively about these emergent collaborative practices – especially in our recent eight newsletter series on affordances – so why bring these critiques up now?
In the past we have primarily focused on positive alternative approaches to creativity and not on a critique of the prevalent existing logics. But, these errors are ubiquitous – we find them both in the most generic descriptions of creativity – and the writings of some of the most interesting complexity consultants who proclaim to know better.
On the simple level we see creativity equated with brains and ideas – all those lightbulbs and pulsating brains!
And on a more sophisticated level management consultants posit claims that creativity and “Innovation is abductive in nature…” Here the problem is compounded – an end outcome is being explained by a mental (reasoning) process: abduction (logical inference from what is observed to explanatory hypothesis generation ). We are back to the emphasis on knowledge, ideas, the immaterial and what can be articulated. And here we also have the mistake of reading creativity “backwards” – where we start from the outcome that is clearly knowable and articulateable – and assume that there had to be some core articulateable component all the way through the process. In doing so they are once again mistakenly making creativity conceptual in nature. And the problems with abductive reasoning as an explanation for innovation doesn’t end here: one is problematically looking backwards from the understandable outcome, and one is speculating that a novel mixing of unrelated concepts (abduction) led to the novel conceptualizable outcome we observe. In doing so these consultants make the fatal error in regards to understanding innovation by assuming that outcomes are mirrored in their process of coming into being. But as Gilles Deleuze likes to remind us of a basic heuristic for emergence “the foundation can never resemble what it founds… it is of another geography, without being of another world”. (Deleuze, The Logic of Sense; for those who wish to explore this wonderful and important heuristic further – here is a good exposition). Let’s proceed…
So many approaches to creativity and innovation miss fully coming to terms with the much needed collective, enactive, material, distributed, more-than human, difference recognizing and experimenting practices that are such a critical part to the broader logic of emergent creative processes. And so many of these practices don’t even recognize that they are trafficking in well understood, researched and refuted errors.
So, this week we offer a set of resources critiquing individualistic, mentalistic, art-focused, and anthropocentric approaches to creativity – from the quick and highly accessible to the long and in depth:
We have divided our recommendations into five categories – starting with key short articles and slowly moving to longer works and ending with a curated list.
Two important notes: this week we are focusing on critiques. While most weeks we focus on the development of alternative approaches – this week the focus is on offering resources that explicate what is wrong or problematic with individualistic mind centered approaches.
Additionally, we are trying to focus on books we have not mentioned in the past. For a more in depth bibliography of books you can consult the bibliography page on our website.
Let's start by keeping things simple, and brief. If you only have time to read one article on this topic – then here is where to start. We can recommend any of these three articles as great places to start – it just depends on where your focus is:
The Greeks Did Not Have Creativity. This is a survey essay we wrote that offers a historically grounded critique of these models of creativity – by going back to the historical greeks.
The Invention of Creativity. This essay by Camilla Nelson does an excellent job of offering a critical genealogy of how the concept of creativity developed in the 1800’s in Europe. It does an excellent job of going into the prior conceptual logic and looking at the 20th century development of the creativity industry.
The Textility of Making by Tim Ingold. This essay offers both a critical account of the ideational approach to creativity and explicates a Deleuze inspired alternative.
Here is a collection of further short articles that cover in brief some further critical arguments about the history of creativity and individuality.
Creativity and Tradition Paul Kristeller. This essay surveys the long complex history of the concept of creation and its relation to the equal long history of making and the emergence of art. Its focus is more on a critical history of ideas.
On the link between the CIA and the arts. While Nelson (above) does a good job covering the link between the development of creativity as a form of human capital and US military funded research. This article is one of many that does a good job introducing the CIA’s involvement in the funding the conceptualization of the arts as a space of creative individualistic self expression.
Postscript on Control Societies Gilles Deleuze. This wonderful short essay by Gilles Deleuze offers an exceptional and brief survey of Foucault's work on the development of the individual. Deleuze goes on to speculate on what comes after the individual – what is emerging today. And he offers a few interesting suggestions on what creative resistance might look like.
Constructive Constraints: On the Chance and Complexity in Artistic Creativity. Building on the work of Tim Ingold (see above), this research paper looks at an emergent materially engaged distributed creative process. A powerful corrective to ideational individualistic models of creativity in the arts. This research references the work of one of absolute favorite musicians, composers, and theorists: Anthony Braxton – listen/watch to this wonderful video if you are not familiar with his work.
There are many great books on these topics. Here are four books that build upon the arguments made in the above articles:
The Invention of Creativity by Andreas Reckwitz. This is a quite effective, if dry, book length critical history (in the Foucaultian tradition) of the development of creativity in Europe and North America. It is particularly good at looking at the emergence of the creativity industries.
Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture Tim Ingold. This book expands on the essay “The Textility of Making”. It offers both a critical argument against the dematerialized brain centric models of creativity and a carefully developed alternative approach to making. Part of what makes this a great book is the attention given to explicating actual practices of making from prehistoric tools to very modern practices across art, craft and mundane daily activities.
Foucault Beyond Foucault: Power and its Intensifications since 1984. Jeffery Nealon develops in a very accessible manner Foucault critical genealogy of the emergence of modern logics of the individual. He argues that the contemporary ideal of individualism is not a form of resistance or independence from power but is rather an expression of contemporary forms of power and that creative resistance will need to develop new forms of subjects.
A World of Many Worlds Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser (eds). One of the rarely challenged assumptions across all aspects of creativity and innovation is its default universalism. The creative subject is an ahistorical gender neutral universal subject. This is an untenable approach. This series of essays offers a critique of western universalism and draws out a series of alternative worldmaking propositions.
A Thousand Plateaus Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. We have recommended this text previously. For us it is a critical text. We hope that you have a copy. If you do we draw your attention to two chapters or “plateaus”: Plateau 3: 10,000BC The Geology of Morals – which focuses on the agency of matter; and Plateau 14: The Smooth and the Striated – which offers a wonderful haptic and materially agential account of the arts. This is what Tim Ingold is drawing from in the above referenced works.
The Foucault Reader. Michel Foucault. Deleuze, Nelson, Reckwitz, and Nealon are all drawing upon the work of Michel Foucault. This anthology collects key essays, interviews and excerpts from major works. It is an accessible and manageable introduction to a pivotal figure in the critical reimagining of what it means to be a subject.
Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art. Hans Belting. This is a big book – a monumental book – but a really wonderful and perspective changing adventure into how radically different objects and images functioned from how we engage with them today. Through this carefully laid out history of the image in western asia he makes a convincing argument for how art emerged in the 1500-1800’s. It is as Arthor Danto says “It is a work that anyone interested in art, or in the history of thought about art, should regard as urgent reading”.
Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Umberto Eco. A short and precise guide to how aesthetics and making evolved through the middle ages – an era when art meant any skilled practice. Eco does an exceptional job of connecting the theological arguments of Augustine and Aquinas to practices of making prior to the emergence of the modern concept of art.
How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. Serge Guilbaut. This is the full argument situating how a modern individualistic and self-expressive paradigm of art emerged in the 20th century. Consider the larger context of the cold war and the related discourses conflating individualism, creativity and freedom, etc.
If you were to ask us what to read – what are our favorites – here is what we would suggest:
Start with these three essays: The Invention of Creativity, The Textility of Making and Postscript on Control Societies. We would suggest reading them in this order and if you can only read one it would be the first one.
If the concepts really have you interested we would suggest that you go on to read one or both of these two books:
And then, if you can pry the cat off the pile of books… follow your curiosity…
Also – we have only focused on a few books – we would love to hear from you: what are your suggestions for books and other resources that offer both a critique and alternative to the individualistic mind centered art focused approach to creativity?
We hope that you have time to read some of this material this week – and it gives you a sense of how problematic and wrong the assumptions behind the individualistic, idea focused, art centric approach to creativity is. We also hope that these writings give you a sense of how interesting, engaging and expansive alternative approaches to creativity are!
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