August 18th, 2005


Where creativity is in fashion

"If we consider the 1960s a decade during which creativity was more fashionable than ever before or since—seeming to concern the layman viewers of the Ed Sullivan show as much as professionals in the "creative industries"—it's because of a shock America received in 1957: the Sputnik shock."

Creativity and the Sputnik Shock is my latest column for AIGA Voice. It's really about the "Creativity Literature" that I grew up on, research published in the 1950s and 60s by psychologists like J.P.Guilford. I used to check this stuff out of the library when I felt low and wounded at university, and skim-read it while listening to the John Peel show. Even if some art school girl had just rejected me, I felt like this research validated me as a person. Most of the papers focused on "the creative personality", a type I identified with strongly. They also focused on teaching and optimizing creativity. Maybe if I did enough optimizing I could one day appear on the Peel Show myself! And girls would never reject me again! That was my "ulterior motive", but only later did I realize that the researchers and readers of these academic papers had their own wound and their own ulterior motive. The wound was Sputnik, and the motive was the desire to beat the Soviets in the Space Race (and, for the psychologists involved, to touch big green stacks of government money earmarked for defense-related projects).

Speaking of columns, this might be a good time to announce that I'll be contributing a bi-monthly column to Wired News starting next Tuesday. Since I'm heading off to Edinburgh later today to see my family and experience ten days of uncurated chaos at the world's largest Arts Festival, the first Wired column will probably be about Edinburgh in August — a time and place, like America in the 60s, where creativity is in fashion.