Creativity, or Subjectivity?

Creativity, or Subjectivity?

Trevor Turcotte, Editor-in-Chief, Journalist

Creativity has been defined as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination:” As an artist I find it odd to observe the stark contrast between this definition and what happens when I create art. Nothing I create can truly be called completely new, or transcending what has already been done.

When I sit down to draw, I start out with an image. Sometimes I take it off the Internet or sometimes I photograph it myself. I start by drawing an outline on my paper using techniques of other pencil artists to get the perspective right. I switch between my pencil and shading materials in order to implement realistic shading techniques developed by pencil artists such as J.D. Hillberry. Once the rough shading is done, I pick and prod at my drawing using trial and error to get things looking as realistic as possible. In the end, I sign my name and call it a day.

Did you notice anything about the above story? Nowhere in that process did I create anything new. This may have not been readily apparent at first, but I encourage you to go back and read it looking for anything novel that I did. The image I drew came from reality, the techniques from artists that came before me, and the final “perfection” from hours of trial and error. This leads me to ask the question: when we create art do we experience creativity, or subjectivity?

Plato is asked in The Republic, “Will we say, of a painter, that he makes something?” Plato answers, “Certainly not, he merely imitates.” Not even the Greek philosophers considered art to be a creative process. We imitate old techniques developed through trial and error, and we imitate the world around us as a subject. Consider any famous piece of art; could it not be reduced to abstract components and techniques that were pieced together? Take the Mona Lisa for example. Ultimately you could say da Vinci used painting techniques that were all or mostly developed by artists before him to render a woman that existed in real life and a background landscape. Even if you argue he imagined the background you could break it down into components as well. The landscape exhibits trees, ground and rivers, all of which exist in reality and have many different painting techniques developed over the years to recreate them. Does this sound like creativity as we define it? Art is not created by what we call creativity; it is created methodically through imitation. When learning art, one of the most common phrases I was taught was “Draw what you see,” not “draw what you imagine.” So far we have only dealt with art where the goal is to be realistic, but I would argue abstract art doesn’t fit with creativity either. Many pieces of abstract art do not resemble reality at all, but that doesn’t mean they are not made methodically. Consider fractals. Fractals are essentially never ending geometric patterns in which the whole is the same shape created by its parts.

What do you see in this picture? Someone might easily argue that this is a very detailed abstract piece of art. The above picture is actually a fractal. It is a beautiful display of math, but it was created by methodical means, with no creativity involved. This begs the question; if math created something beautiful in a methodical manner, why can not our brains do the same? Some artists may experience the creation of art as a creative process where they pull something from nothing but would not a simpler answer be that our brains have made art in a methodical manner and simply tricked us into thinking creativity was involved?

Strong evidence for my conclusion is Jackson Pollock. Pollock is a highly esteemed abstract artist. Life Magazine even questioned if he might be the greatest living painter in the United States. Physicists have subsequently analyzed his artwork and what they found might surprise you.

“Physicist Richard Taylor was on sabbatical in England six years ago when he realized that the same analysis could be applied to Pollock’s work. In the course of pursuing a master’s degree in art history, Taylor visited galleries and pored over books of paintings. At one point in his research, he began to notice that the drips and splotches on Pollock’s canvases seemed to create repeating patterns at different size scales—just like fractals.”
Essentially what was discovered is that his artwork was composed of mathematical components such as fractal and chaos theory. The secret to this artist’s success was not creativity. It was math.

Even if art is created methodically and not creatively, does that really take anything away from art or the artist? Many artists may instinctively feel threatened by this conclusion as it means they are not creating something from nothing. It means that the mystical experience of the creative process may be nothing more than a trick played on us by our brains. But why does that make the art any less valuable or worth creating? If anything, this makes our art more interesting, as we can understand it on a whole new level. Creating art may not truly be an art as it is not creative in the way we define creativity, but it certainly is a science. It is the science of creating beauty, and I gladly take part in it.