Sunday, July 05, 2015
I often get emails from the energetic Deniz Selcuk, who, judging by his name, is a Turk. I assume he is a he but I could be wrong. He could be a she. I know nothing about the naming conventions of Turkish and suspect that I never will.
Deniz is obsessively interested in creativity. He scours the net for possibly relevant information about it. Even so, he fell into what I gather is a rather common trap. He assumed that there was such a thing as creativity. More precisely, he asssumed that there was a general trait of creativity. There are of course individual creative acts but there is no such thing as a generally creative person.
In that way it differs from IQ. A person who approaches one problem intelligently is highly likely to approach other problems intelligently, even quite different problems. IQ generalizes, Creativity does not.
I managed to convince Deniz that he was wrong, which is a compliment to his open-mindedness, but I thought I should also mention here some of the things that I told him.
So how do I know that there is no such thing as creativity? Three ways: From a reading of the research on the topic, from known facts and from personal experience. I am not actually up to date with the latest research but the findings were quite consistent when last I looked at them so I doubt that much has changed. The finding was that a person creative in one field might be knowledgeable about other fields but was creative only in his own specialty.
And that brings me to known facts. How many great painters were also great composers? None. A lot of distinguished (and undistinguished) people paint in their latter years but that is about it.
And that brings me to a Canadian lady I once knew rather well: "B". She was head of a rather large art school here in Brisbane that formed part of one of our universities. So the visual arts were clearly her thing. But in her home she did not have a single device (stereo, hiFi etc) for playing music. Music hardly existed for her. Her daughter had a small portable device but that was it. I have no idea how creative "B" was in any visual art but she must have gained some distinction to be in the job she held. But there was clearly zero chance of her being creative musically.
And I am much the same. I have only one narrow field of creativity: Scientific writing. I would not have over 200 academic journal articles in print without that. I write only for blogs these days but I think I do that to the same old standard of care.
But is academic writing creative? Not always. It is just hack stuff a lot of the time. But the hack stuff mostly doesn't get published. The journal editor and his referees have to find something interesting in the paper to pass it for publication. They commonly accept only around 10% of what they see.
And to be interesting, you have to be creative to at least some extent. You have to have something new to say. That made things easy for me. I see things from a conservative/libertarian viewpoint whereas journal editors in the social sciences almost invariably see things from a Leftist viewpoint. So my writings were rather amazing to them. Leftists live in their own little self-constructed mental bubble that insulates them from disturbing non-Leftist thought so bursting into that bubble delivers surprise.
Leftists don't like irruptions into their bubbles, however, so what I was saying had to be very strongly defended. My research had to be very "waterproof". But it was, so I got published. My usual trick towards accomplishing that was to do real sampling. Your average Leftist psychological researcher does no sampling at all. If he wants to find out what people think and why, he just hands out a bunch of questionnaires to his students and accepts the findings from that as valid for all people for all time. That shows, of course, the utter intellectual poverty of most Leftists.
My approach, by contrast, was to go and knock on randomly selected doors in some big city and talk to an actual representative sample of real people! I talked to "the people"! Leftists often talk about "The people" but they usually know nothing about them -- as I found when comparing my findings with what was in the existing literature on the topic.
But since social scientists do in theory view sampling as important, when I presented them with some, they found it very hard to knock back. They did manage to knock it back about 50% of the time but I mostly broke through eventually. Since my conclusions were invariably the diametric opposite of what Leftists believe (facts and Leftism have a VERY uneasy relationship) it would only have been the unusually open-minded editor who published my stuff. And it was. There were three editors who published my writings repeatedly while other editors would be good for only one or two acceptances -- generally on rather technical subjects that were not too alarming.
You might think that an ability to write well in an academic way would generalize to other fields of writing. Not in my experience. Being aware that I was doing well with academic writing, I tried on a couple of occasions to write short stories. I submitted them to various publications with zero success. I will probably put them online the day before I die. So even creative writing does not generalize from one field to another.
So to be creative you have to have ideas and you have to work on them but that is about all you can say about creativity in general.
An interesting thing that I note is that, although I say many "outrageous" things on my blogs, I rarely get abusive email and comments from Leftists in response. I think it means that academic-standard argument leaves them lost so they avoid reading it at all. Must keep that bubble intact!
The ancient Greeks had an interesting theory of creativity. They felt that there was a "muse" behind each creative person. The muse was a spirit being who was the real creative force. The muse would for instance "send down" the words that a writer was writing, with the writer himself having only a minor part in the final product.
That is not quite as silly as it sounds. I have experienced something like that. Sometimes the words I want to write pour out and it is a real challenge to get them all written down before they go away. All that it really means, I guess, is that we can think a lot faster than we can write. But I don't blame the Greeks for thinking what they did. It does feel the way they describe it.
I don't think that anything I have said so far is terribly controversial so let me stir the pot a bit: I think Hitler was a good artist. Just the fact that everybody says he was not tends to lead me to that view. In the simple world of propaganda, ascribing anything good to him would risk attack as morally reprehensible. But not much in life is all black and white so I see no moral risk at all at holding that there might have been one praiseworthy thing about him. But let me nonetheless explain in two parts:
Google the words "Hitler" and "paintings" together and click "images" and you will see a veritable gallery of the many paintings and watercolors that Hitler produced in his youth. I think a lot of them are quite good.
I cheerfully admit that I know nothing about art but I doubt that anybody does. When skilled forgers and copyists regularly fool art critics and when random blobs of paint smeared onto a canvas by some ape or other simian are warmly praised, I think I would be embarrassed to claim that I know anything about art. I think I would be calling myself a fool.
What rather gets me is when a painting worth millions is discovered to be a forgery, its value suddenly drops into the mere thousands. Clearly, an evaluation of its worth reflected something other than the goodness of the art concerned -- snobbery perhaps.
So that is my first blast on the subject. I don't think that Hitler was a great artist but he seems as good as any other outside that top range.
My second blast is that Hitler's real creative achievement was not in painting at all. He had clear artistic instincts but they reached greatness in politics. And I can divide that into two parts. He was an indisputably mesmerizing orator who made most of Germany fall in love with him and his vision. If that is not great creativity, tell me what would be. Nobody before or since has been so successful in oratory.
From reading his inaugurals and other speeches, Abraham Lincoln probably was as good at oratory in his day but he was an old fraud too. Lincoln convinced Americans that 600,000 of their young men had to die to abolish slavery -- when no other nation on earth needed to shed a single drop of blood to abolish slavery.
And, getting back to Hitler, part of his political genius did include a visual component. He was largely responsible for the design of Nazi rituals, displays and rallies and they helped make his speeches and rituals so emotionally powerful. So that was clearly a remarkable artistic achievement. And that too would seem to be a pinnacle achievement. I know of no other political rallies and speeches that are re-run on TV even a thousandth as often as Hitler's.
All those re-runs surely attest that even we who are long past any sympathy with his aims are still powerfully affected by the speeches and spectacles involved. How could such a failed and disastrous politician still figure so largely in our minds? There was clearly something about him that was way outside the ordinary. He still fascinates.
So Hitler may have been merely a good painter but as a political persuader he was the best ever. He was supremely creative in only one field but it was in a field that was, regrettably, immensely influential
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).