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Three Regions for Creativity

Creativity happens in places that are defined by the nature of perception.

Fundamentally, objects and behaviors exist in the world, we perceive them through our senses, and we hold representations of them in our minds. This opens up three conceptual spaces for creativity: the material space, which is the object or behavior itself; our mode of perception, which is the sense or senses through which we perceive the work, the moderator between the world and our thoughts; and the mind, which is the intellectual framework within which we understand the work.

Three Regions for Creativity

Creative work, then, can be done materially, which means creating or altering physical material or behavior (and this is what we typically think of when we think of creativity); it can be done modally, which means translating a work through different modes of perception; and it can be done mentally, by reframing the way we understand a pre-existing work.

Material Creativity

Material creativity is what we most often think of when we think of creativity.  It is the creation of objects, or behaviors of people or objects.  It is creation that exists either in physical form, like a painting, an automobile, an iPhone, an essay, or a book, or it exists in physical behavior, like the game of soccer, a postal route, a meeting agenda, or a vacation itinerary. Material creativity is made up of things we create out of stuff or out of actions.  In this way, a governmental structure, a course syllabus, or any organized social setting is a material creative work.  In this light, it is no stretch to see the entire development and growth of a civilization as a great work of material creativity, a collection of novel objects and behaviors.

Modal Creativity

Modal creativity is the act of translating the sensory experience of an object or behavior from one mode of perception to another.  Consider the story of The Nutcracker. It began as a verbal experience, the German story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E. T. A. Hoffman.  The Russian choreographer Marius Petipa envisioned it as a ballet, and in so doing, he made a modal shift from a verbal form to a visual form.  His creation is, for all purposes, the same story, but modally shifted into a wordless, visuo-spatial representation. Then, he gave specific instructions to Tchaikovsky to translate the story into a musical/aural experience, which was a second modal shift.  Again, the same work, but now an auditory experience.  The creative efforts that made The Nutcracker involved movement through separate modes of perception, as each version tells the same story, but one is verbal, one is visual, and one is aural.  This is modal creativity. 

Mental Creativity

Mental creativity is the development of new ways of thinking about a subject or object.   It does not change the material substance or the modal perception; it only changes how we think about the subject or object, how we hold it in our minds.  This kind of creativity is one we see most often in the legal and political worlds, as litigators and politicians attempt to reframe issues in an intellectual landscape aligned with their argument or affiliation.  Again, this region of creativity exists not in the work itself, nor in our experience consuming work, but in how we understand the work.

Three Regions for Creativity

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