Today we will investigate European concepts of creativity - from ancient times to contemporary culture. Our culture here in Australia is still heavily influenced by this Euro-centric history and the way we perceive ourselves as artists is affected by theories and philosophies that have grown over millennia.
To examine the history of creativity we could define some broad categories of creativity that apply to the visual arts you currently engage in, which have developed from creative practices going back to ancient times:
Storytelling (language & performance)
from the earliest cultures and societies we are able to find evidence of creative practice relating to storytelling. From cave paintings to earthenware containers, buildings, murals, textiles, etc. More difficult to document, oral tradition and performance such as dance, poetry, storytelling is also a part of our creative heritage. This need to communicate ideas and narratives, histories, metaphors, analogies etc is inherently human and is found throughout our history in many forms of creative practice. Our own indigenous culture is a wonderful example of this. We will explore Indigenous art further in the following class.
Cave painting from Kakadu
Making (skills development)
This form of creativity is evident in many ancient cultures. For example: ancient Greek artefacts demonstrate a high level of creativity associated with skills and technological development in areas such as sculpture, pottery, architecture. The word "poiein" ("to make") was all they used to describe creation (mostly of poetry) and their word for art: "techne" which means "the making of things, according to rules" is the root of our word 'technology". This is a way we can understand how people then perceived creative practice. This type of creative work prevalent in many cultures in ancient times (perhaps better described as produced by "artisans"), comes before the idea of an individualistic artist - the way we think of artists today.
Athenian vase painting
Creating (divergent thinking)
The basis of the word "create" comes from Latin roots and differentiated between "making" from something and "creating" from nothing - as if by the hand of God. For example: Renaissance arts - where the concept of an intellectual, educated, creative artist
really began to develop. These artists were well known individuals with individual styles and methods which they developed through apprentice-style schools, but took their work further than the artisan of the past because individuality and ego became part of the creation process, and artists vied and aspired to ever greater creative feats including spectacular outcomes in areas such as painting, sculpture, architecture etc. An artist as a "renaissance man" could create all kinds of works in his/her own name.
Leonardo Da Vinci - Self Portrait & Vitruvian Man c1490
- La Pieta c1500
Inventing (new ideas and methods, creating new technology)
The concept of scientific invention was at times, closely related to the arts, and the Renaissance was a very vibrant time for development of scientific inventions which were also creative in nature. Think of artists like Leonardo DaVinci who could paint complex works using new technologies, and could also invent devices such as flying machines. This concept of creativity also was highly prized in the Industrial Revolution (18th - 19th centuries) where technological inventions changed the lives of many people world-wide through the development of machines and engines. These inventions also affected the arts greatly - think about photography and film and how this changed the way artists worked - not only in the use of these technologies, but also in the way it made artists re-think other media such as painting and sculpture. Lastly, inventions related to the Information Age we are in now, have affected how artists are creative in so many different ways- something you are experiencing in this very course.
Georges Méliès - Journey to the Moon 1902
Imagining (free thinking and conceptualisation)
Imagination was a concept familiar to the ancient Greeks, but they applied it to poetry rather than art. Imagination also rose in importance in the 18th Century, though still mainly amongst writers. It was later on in the 19th century that imagination and creativity in art took on a new understanding
and artists such as Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne continued to paint quite traditional subject matter — landscapes, portraits and still lifes — but they created them in ways that shocked their contemporaries. They combined imagination and creativity to invent new methods of using paint new ways of depicting modern life. They and others created the foundations of Modern Art. In fact, some would argue that Creativity came to mainly be associated with Art during the Modern period.
Paul Cézanne - Mont Sainte Victoire 1895
Henri Matisse - The Dessert Harmony in Red 1908
Remixing (synthesis of past creative output into new creative output)
As we will discuss in later weeks, remix and recombination of creative content is not a new phenomena born from the hip-hop music scene. Recent technological developments such as Digital Media, have enabled remix to become ubiquitous, and have almost reversed the concept of the Individualistic Artist that creates from nothing, and we will discuss how creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. The concept of remix has been happening subtly throughout our history of human endeavour. We all take past developments and past creative work and redevelop it into new work based upon our own personal creative practices.
Charlie Engman - COMPILATION TOKYO: REMIX 2014
Collaborating (working with others to produce creative content)
There is a recent shift in contemporary art spheres where artists are increasingly working collaboratively, and we will discuss this further in later weeks. Of course, collaboration has always occurred as humans are social animals, but the past rise of the individualistic artist is now not the only popular mode of artistic practice. There has been a paradigm shift in recent years, and it is almost fashionable to collaborate now - something that can be seen in major contemporary art exhibitions and festivals. There are many but the first well known collaboration that comes to mind is Gilbert & George. Their collaboration is a life partnership and making art is a part of that partnership. There is something in the truism "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" which we could relate to what a collaborative group of artists might be able to create. One great medium that requires collaboration on a very large scale is film making. Think of the number of collaborators that contributed to the creation of the last film you saw at the cinema, on TV, online or DVD. We will explore many other collaborations in future classes.
Gilbert & George - Toynbee Street 2008