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Creativity as a cultural construction

Most definitions of creativity used in creativity research proceed from a culturally and historically limited worldview, which is currently dominating in the West. This worldview is neither universal nor constant. The history of the word 'creativity' in Western languages suggests that the current concept of creativity is relatively recent. It was absent, for example, in Ancient Greece, which was content with the words like 'techne' meaning craft, skill, the ability to do something well. Attempts to reconstruct the views on creativity in antiquity are based on the application of a modern 'language of description' to inappropriate objects resulting in the arbitrary modernisation of historical phenomena.

The modern Western concept of creativity is rooted in the Judeo-Christian myth of Creation and its content has been transforming through the ages in accordance with changes in culture and social mentality. It has gradually lost its religious and mystical connotations; the source of creativity has been shifted from supernatural forces to the individual and society. An emphasis on observable product and external evaluation emerged. The concepts of novelty, usefulness and external assessment, on which the current definition of creativity is based, are linked to other concepts characteristic of the Western worldview such as personal identity, the linearity of history and social consensus as criteria of truth. However, this dominant worldview is not the only possible one even in Western culture where different worldviews coexist that produce different concepts of creativity.

The relativity of the discussed definition is especially evident if compared to the concept of creativity in other cultures. Lubart (1999b) compared the Western definition of creativity 'as product-oriented, originality-based phenomenon' to an Eastern view of creativity. He maintained that the Western concept of creativity is not applicable to cultures which are based on the following principles: 1) the sustenance and reproduction of myth and tradition, 2) cyclical rather than linear time, 3) the conception of unbegun world and the denial of creation.

Lubart (1999b: 340) found that "the Eastern concept of creativity seems less focused on innovative products. Instead, creativity involves a state of personal fulfillment, a connection to a primordial realm, or the expression of an inner essence of ultimate reality." Unlike the Western view of both creation and human creativity involving a linear movement towards a new point, the Eastern view sees the creative process as "a circular movement in the sense of successive reconfiguration of an initial totality" (ibid.: 341). While the Western view tends to describe the creative process in terms of problem-solving, then the Eastern view emphasizes "emotional, personal, and intrapsychic elements" (ibid.: 342). The goal of creativity in the East is not producing useful novelty but a revelation of "the true nature of the self, an object, or an event" (ibid., 340), that is, the realization of the structures which are "discrete in space and indiscrete in time" (Mamardashvili and Pyatigorskij, 1984). Lubart (1999b: 340) noted that "this conceptualization is similar to humanistic psychology's conception of creativity as part of self-actualization".

Of course, both Western and Eastern views are generalizations abstracted from the subtleties of particular cultures. More detailed analysis would reveal differences in constructing creativity in national cultures or social subcultures. Nevertheless, the opposition is useful as a rough description of the two 'ideal types' that may be elaborated and concretized in application to specific cultures. It may help to avoid the mechanical projection of the concept of creativity developed in the West onto other cultures, especially since the United States is a leader in creativity research. For example, the American worldview emphasizing individualism, a work ethic of accomplishment and achievement, and a belief in progress and a better future (Spindler and Spindler, 1983) and its corresponding concept of creativity probably may not be adequately applicable to analyze creativity in Russian culture, which has never been governed by the Protestant Ethic and has been generally indifferent to both the future and the past (Kas'yanova, 2003).

Creativity as a cultural construction. Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research / Compiled and edited by Eugene Gorny., 2007.
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