Creativity and human decency

These are my two criteria for assessing, crudely, someone’s worth in society.

Creativity denotes the extent to which the person engages in newer things. For example, John Coltrane takes a tool (with which he is skilled) and context (the Western musical tradition, jazz clubs) to create new, previously unheard sounds. He factors high on the creativity scale (note, however, that he isn’t doing anything totally new). Someone who uses Coltrane’s methods for creating music, say, the structure of Blue Train, is much lower on this scale (and may also be less skilled, but that is neither here nor there). Someone like Britney Spears, with songs arranged and written by others is only adding her vocal interpretation to the song, and not all that creative. However, she (or her publicist/manager) did create a newer interpretation of the pop nymphette to sell many records.

By this measure, few people rank that highly. The salaryman or investment banker isn’t creating anything, just using his/her skill to do a job. Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, do rate highly, creating a new business model through hard work and intelligence.

Of course, measuring people solely by how creative they are is unfair. What about the salaryman who works hard to give his children a better upbringing? Surely this is worth something. Human decency is how good a parent you are, how concerned you are about others. Do you kick dogs? You measure poorly. Do you take a boring job just so you can have a nice home for your family? You don’t get that high up the creative scale, but you do on the human decency scale.

Perhaps this notion of creativity and decency are a product of my left-leaning upbringing. Certainly conservatives value decency, but perhaps hard work more. Certainly society doesn’t place a high value on creativity when it doesn’t create value for others. This is why you can be a brilliant artist who is nice to others, and still starve.

Creativity also is a product of the area it is applied. Sculpture, for example, seems to have virtually limitless opportunities for creativity, being unconstrained by form, materials, or aesthetic. Poetry, on the other hand, is less forgiving — you must use words, usually recognizable by some portion of humanity, and the spaces between them matter.

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Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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