The craft of creativity

Creativity is largely considered today synonymous with success. It is the success enjoyed by creative people who are accomplished in both their personal and professional life; the success of innovative institutions capable of thriving in the complex and dynamic work environments of today; the success of countries that cultivate a healthy creative industries sector and invest in research and development. Why is this assumption so widespread? Because creativity is typically defined, at least in psychology, as the process leading to the generation of both new/original and useful/effective products…

Glăveanu, V.P., 2018. Educating which creativity?. Thinking Skills and Creativity27, pp.25-32.

So begins a paper by Glăveanu. The paper sets up creativity as the opposite of the desirable for teachers and organisations; teachers preferring compliant ‘good’ students to those that might question and challenge. Organisations wanting innovation but wanting compliant employees. But ‘more importantly though’, asks Glăveanu, ‘we should ask which creativity we are talking about’.

Is it the evolutionary, adaptive type, that tries to improve things little by little? Or does it take the form of improvisation in responding to obstacles? Or perhaps it is a non-conformist type of creativity that deliberately defies the status quo? For all of these cases we can find advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, we can notice that actually those people who want more creativity − in schools, at the workplace, in the family, and so on − might not be talking about the same thing. Despite the fact that we tend to operate in psychology with a single and unitary definition of creativity, as explained above, this definition is product focused and, as such, it remains silent about the antecedents, processes, and consequences of creativity. And this is how, in reality, there might be different “creativities” rather than a singular, unitary one.


Glăveanu sees Romanticism as the glue that united creativity and the arts; a connection that results in many who do not pursue artistic activity to perceive their own creativity in a negative way. This is a consequence of the strong connection between arts and creativity.

The novelty bias in creativity research and in society should concern us since it is widely recognized that things that are highly original but not valuable or meaningful in any way belong to the realm of the bizarre rather than the creative. The bizarre was widely cultivated by Romantic poets and writers and it does attract a lot of artists and creators in today’s popular culture (making sometimes people wonder if certain products do belong in art galleries or museums after all). The central features of creativity supposed to be at the root of novelty and originality are spontaneity, self-expression and authenticity. Creative people, whether they are artists or not, tend to be considered creative because they are free in their work, unconventional, and able to explore and express their emotions.


Glăveanu explains how the ‘spontaneity’ and improvisatory nature of creativity has informed lots of the activities we commonly see as tools to assess creative potential; brainstorming, considering uses of objects etc. Connecting creativity to urgent responses (spontaneous, improvisation) does not seem fair to all; if a teacher’s definition of creative endeavour focuses on the spontaneous it might not enable all to demonstrate their creative potential.

Solving problems creatively involves highly develop skills for analytical thinking and, indeed, the creativity of invention prompted a long line of research into creativity and intelligence.


I like creativity as invention; the second in the creativity definitions proposed in the paper. Though creativity as invention has strong connections to intelligence (IQ for example) and ‘genius’. Focused on solving problems, and here divergence of thought is less desirable. Design thinking falls into the domain of creativity as invention, but there will be some disagreement about the position of problem-solving within the discipline of science or arts, and there is the potential to reconfigure the relationship of domains and disciplines (such as the British Academy SHAPE initiative) to remove the need for such debates.

There is a lot of creativity involved in everyday life activities, from cooking to driving and solving mundane problems at home or at work, and yet this kind of creative expression often flies “under the radar” of creativity researchers. 


Interesting point when Glăveanu reaches their final creativity definition; creativity as craft.

Craft requires skill, practice, and leads to mastery. Creativity as a mark of masterful activity transcends (by integrating) existing dichotomies, discussed above, between originality and value, divergence and convergence, science and art. Most of all, it challenges the separation between self and other since no craft was ever invented or performed by solitary individuals. On the contrary, craft activities grow out of apprenticeships and learning with and from others.


The paper shares how craftspeople were not afforded the same status as artists and scientists; craft felt to be ‘technical’ rather than creative. And this is why I love Becker’s Art worlds, for amplifying the creativity of craft.

What are the implications of this third understanding of creativity for assessment and enhancement techniques? First of all, craft creativity cannot be assessed simply in terms of “creative potential” but needs to consider creative achievement. This is because, within this paradigm, it makes no sense to separate potential from the actual activities of people. Mastery doesn’t exist in potential: it either is manifest or is not or, better said, it is always in the process of being developed through practice. 


This is the best part for me. The assessment implications. The development of creativity through practice. And whilst I am increasingly preferring creativity as craft, the paper does warn ‘while craft creativity is the closest to how sociocultural psychology portrays creative action, this doesn’t make it superior to other conceptions and practices of creating’. The three definitions of creativity are not presented in a sequence to be considered in order of preference, but the paper suggests these were co-existing throughout history. Even more importantly this paper reminds us of the Western-centric definitions of creativity and poses many questions to consider the definitions from Eastern and Southern perspectives.

If it does matter, and I believe it does, then it becomes crucially important to develop in research and in education more emic or local understandings of creativity instead of simply “importing” theories and models developed in other geographical and cultural places.


Maybe the local could be a school, or a group of schools. I’m increasingly considering that what value does a universal definition of creativity bring, but there is value in a community defined creativity. And if that community of creative craft were a group of schools I can imagine the value in a shared approach and definition.

The paper offers important questions for educators in its conclusion. It offers a view that educators could be ‘more reflexive when using definitions, theories or assessment tools for creativity’.

We need to ask ourselves more often: what do these definitions imply? What kinds of creativity do they recognize and which do they ignore? How are they constructing creativity for us and what does that mean in practice? In the classroom, art based definitions of creativity will favor students who are spontaneous and highly expressive, problem solving approaches will likely favor the conscientious and practically minded, and a craft view will encourage those who collaborate well. Students who don’t fit these models might be seen as less creative or in need of special training.


I’d like to be an educator that is ‘sensitive to multiple creativities and understands their origins, advantages and disadvantages’ as the paper suggests I ‘would be more inclined to cultivate diversity and offer each students the tools and support needed to develop their own style and form of creative expression’.


Glăveanu, V.P., 2018. Educating which creativity?. Thinking Skills and Creativity27, pp.25-32.

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