The guy on the left is Plato. He's pointing up in Rafael's masterpiece because 'up' represents Plato's Theory of Forms, or high concept ideas. I referenced Plato's Forms in last week's post and how when I think of a chair and you think of a chair, we don't think of the same chair but rather the same form/idea/concept of a chair. I'm going to use Plato again here because, well, he was pretty smart and wrote a lot of really great stuff. The Allegory of the Cave chief among them. In this tale, Plato proves that people are more influenced by perception rather than reality. And that the forced perception brought on by others proves that humans know only what other humans knew before them.
In Cave, Plato references three 'prisoners' shackled from birth and forced to stare at the side of a cave wall to see only the shadows of the world around them. To the prisoners, this perception is their reality. Additionally, every single thing these prisoners know is the result of what someone else knows. Of course, we're not prisoners in a cave (not literally anyway), but we are all influenced by others from the day we were born until the day we die. And I'm not just talking about having someone showing you how to throw a curve ball – I mean by using a pen. A keyboard. A screwdriver. Growing grapefruit. Making clothes. Building anything. Speaking any language. Cooking. Thinking any thought. Nothing – not a single thing in your life will ever be truly original. I used to joke that my daughters were the most original thing I've ever done in my life. And they are – but the DNA that makes them unique is based on generations of people in our family who are piles of ash now. It's kind of ironic, but the most original thing humans can do is produce more humans.
So if we're not 'creative' then what the hell are we?
Innovation: 1: the introduction of something new 2: a new idea, method or device.
It's important to remember that new does not mean 'original.' New means different. Different as in building on an existing idea to make a new use for something. Kind of like putting Arm & Hammer Baking Soda in the fridge to soak up odor. If you're in advertising, you know this is part of what we do every day. By providing people with new ways to think about things, we establish connections that ride the coattails of familiar ideas (very familiar in the case of talking to specific target audiences). But is this called Creative? Not really – definitely not in the way that the word is ultimately defined. Do I expect everyone to start calling themselves Innovative Directors now? Hardly. We'll always say we're 'Creatives' - and that's cool. Just not accurate.
I'll close this ridiculous argument with the only surefire way I know for a human to be truly 'Creative.' Confiscate a newborn and lock it in a windowless room with no outside influence. After about 18 years, open the door to the room and ask them what they know. If they have somehow learned to speak (your language), and if they were able to sustain themselves during this time w/o food from you, then whatever ideas they'd have would be completely uninfluenced, original and creative.
I know. It's a paradox. Just accept it – we're not nearly as 'Creative' as we think we are.
9 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Aug 22, 2009
Geez, I thought his finger looked like that because somebody airbrushed the basketball out….
Lee McKnight Jr
Aug 26, 2009
Ha-love this post. So true, I consistently bring up this same argument in relation to bands past and present. My wife has long since stopped paying attention when I do this by the way.
Aug 27, 2009
In Hebrew, the word which is often translated as “created” is better translated as “organized”.
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. – Einstein
Aug 30, 2009
Mine too Lee. 😉
Aug 30, 2009
Einstein and Plato – a couple of pretty smart guys.
Aug 10, 2010
Damn, Jim. Amazing post. I’m a Plato groupie, too — Plato’s Republic inspired me to concentrate in philosophy in college. Agreed, we are innovators, not creatives. It’s quite a modernist view of our craft. When Stein wrote “a rose, is a rose, is a rose,” she was deconstructing the notion of originality. Yes, our ideas are shaped by thinking that has come before us. Our strength lies in creating something familiar from something less familiar — that’s innovation. Think of the idea of an African-American president. The Obama campaign was beautifully innovative — the power of redefining the accepted image of President in America. Taking social norms and shifting the perspective/perception is ‘creative.’
I like to think we are non-conformists, creating dissension among accepted thoughts and perceptions. The most beautiful work, the most innovative advertising, creates tension among expected views and traditional approaches. So, cheers, to you for a phenomenal line of thinking from a fellow dissident outside the cave.
Aug 10, 2010
Thanks Gretchen. Best comment ever.
Aug 30, 2010
Yup. The most creative people I know find little meaning in the word “creative”.
I don’t mind the word when I use it in the most general of terms. But using it describe what I do for a living kinda makes feel like an asshole.
Aug 30, 2010
That’s exactly it, Hugh. I feel like a God when I say “I’m a creative.” So i just stick with writer – since that’s not convoluted at all.
My novel – Minor King
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