Imitative Arts

When studying theories of creativity, I encountered R.J. Sternberg’s idea that “Creative individuals, by their nature, tend to defy the crowd. They resist merely thinking or doing what others are thinking or doing.” This idea resonated with me but often does not define creativity to the rest of the population; nor is the concept of being original really understood.

Creativity requires making a product that does not resemble those produced by others. However, many people consider creativity as producing an “artistic” result that resembles some item they have seen before that has been praised for its artistry. In other words, something that is much closer to imitation. Artificial Intelligence uses work produced by others to learn how to alter successive reiterations of an image or a piece of writing. The fact that we sometimes cannot distinguish one from the other may indicate a waning desire for creative work. The new goal now seems to be a product acceptable to an audience because it is like other current art forms. The only noticeable difference may be pushing one aspect to a greater extent.

Now, we have a conundrum. There is no reliable way to quantify creativity. We could ask a large random group of people to vote on the creative aspects of a number of books. However, as the definition of conformity is preferring what others prefer, the average choice would not be based on how different the book is from others but rather how similar it is. That is why editors and publishers seek “comps” for new works by unknown authors. Bestselling books are often similar kinds of books until successive reiterations (produced by humans and not AI) blend so much that a new trend provides welcomed novelty.

Another way exists to judge writing and art. People respected in their particular fields judge the entire body of work from an extensive sample in order to rank individual works. For example, a joint study by Harvard and University of Washington tasked judges with comparing samples of visual art and creative writing by teenagers made between 1990 and 2011 to determine if creativity was increasing or decreasing. The markers of creativity were complexity, risk-taking, and breaking away from the standard mold. The conclusion? Improvement existed in visual work, which showed greater sophistication and complexity, and a decline occurred in the writing, which became simpler and more mundane.[1]

There is also a test designed by E.P. Torrance to judge the creative thinking of children (unimaginatively named the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking). The scores on this test began their downward slide in the United States in 1984. Students at all grade levels have been gradually showing less creativity since that time. This, steady decline is most evident in the ability to elaborate, or produce details that support a main idea. [2]

Is it any wonder that people are now awed by the creative products of a computer that combines and imitates the styles of humans in art and writing? Just as there is no single factor contributing to the creativity of individuals, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to judging forms of art for their originality. There are just trends that may not always hold true, because as all creative people know, rules are meant to be broken.

[1] Kelley,P. A decline in creativity? it depends on how you look, University of Washington News and Information, November 11,2013

[2] Kim, Kyung Hee (2011). The creativity crisis: The decrease in creative thinking scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23, 285-295.

This entry was posted in Creativity, Ideas for writing, Trends in books, Writing trends and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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