Creativity ≠ The arts

Play a word association game with me. What do you think of when you hear the word “creativity”? One of the associations I hear most often is the word “arts,” such as when people say something like this recent social media comment:

Everyone is creative but not everyone is artistic.

This statement is perhaps meant to affirm artists, but it’s unsettling, because of what it implies.

Someone can hear this and experience a range of emotion: the high of thinking she has gifts to offer – “Oh, I’m creative?” – followed by the deflation of realizing she doesn’t – “Oh. I’m not artistic?” Her shoulders slump, because she wants to be creative, but because she’s not an artist she thinks her ideas don’t count. I have heard variations of this story on several occasions.

Or, another response, as someone compares himself to friends and colleagues: “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” When in fact what he really means is, I don’t make films or do graphic design or paint or draw.

People associate the words “creative” and “artistic”.

We meet artists, and we label them creative, and their work – painting, design, writing, music – as art.

But is this a precise association to make?

Consider this statement:

Everyone has legs but not everyone is fast.

Humans are bipeds. We stand on two legs. This is a fairly universal attribute. But some – perhaps only a few – have physical giftedness that position them to pursue athletic achievement.

The former – legs – is universal; the latter – strength and speed – is a specific gift, given to a few.

Creativity is more universal than the gift and skill of artistry.

Creativity is as intrinsic to being human as having two legs – even moreso, because while tragedy might rob or alter our bodies, creativity is in our spirit, put there at our inception.

It’s fine if artists care a great deal about creativity. They should, because it’s central to what artists do, just as athletes should care a great deal about leg strength. But that shouldn’t slow down everyone else, who can learn and benefit from a greater understanding of creativity.

  • What are the implications of disassociating creativity and “the arts” and thinking of creativity as something deeper and more intrinsic than having a specific skill?
  • Seth Godin uses the word “art” as the product of our unique creativity. He challenges our definition of “art” and our association of creativity and the arts. Has the association of creativity and the arts inhibited you? How?
  • What ways can you see the benefits of creativity in your life that have nothing to do with what are traditionally considered “the arts”?


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).