An Excessive Love Of Novelty

One of the issues that are faced at present in the understanding of creativity is the confusion of creativity with innovation or with novelty. Given the immense popularity of books and other media that deal with innovation and given the excessive love of novelty that is present in contemporary society, it is of little surprise that creativity should be confused with these two things. Generally speaking, innovation is viewed as being connected often with technology and is viewed as progress and development in novel technologies and techniques. Similarly, novelty in general, newness, is viewed with far too much fondness in contemporary society, given that those things that are novel by definition have not stood the test of time and have not often been tested to see if they are good ways. Yet our age does not care if something is good so long as it is new, and this seriously distorts the sorts of cultural creations which are most highly valued and the ways which people tend to adopt in their lives.

Yet creativity is not necessarily either novelty nor innovation. Let us place ourselves in the position of someone whose house contains a modest supply of somewhat ordinary food and who has the task of feeding hungry children who do not want to eat the same dish over and over again. It would indeed be easy to cook up something like tuna noodle casserole night after night, but such a thing might lead someone to have an intense loathing for such a dish. On the contrary, the possession of a few staples might lead to the investigation of what variety of dishes can be made from a few staples, so as to provide variety within the narrow constraints of the ingredients provided. Perhaps, as is often the case, food can be prepared a different way, so that various combinations of chicken and pasta and chicken and rice could provide variety even if there are only a few ingredients that can go with them. None of the dishes would be necessarily innovative, as all of them might have been found through looking in one’s recipe book or looking up a likely recipe in one’s cookbooks or online. Nor would such dishes be novel, as they might be very familiar to the people cooking them and eating them. Yet such an effort would still be creative as it would be a means of providing a solution to the desired variety within narrow material constraints.

On the other hand, it is trivial to consider the fact that novelty might not be either creative nor a good thing. It is practically a slur on a song to consider it a novelty effort, whose appeal is solely based on it being different than what is familiar. Similarly, the world is full of technology companies that have sought innovative solutions that have been terrible for the people using them. Right now, for example, I have had reason to curse the innovativeness of WordPress in the blog editors that they provide for users like myself, in that today it took a great deal of effort to make simple edits to a post I had written earlier on the career of Dan Fogelberg and my writing of this particular post was marred by the appearance of a banner telling me I did not have permission to edit this post because of some glitch in the login recognition on this page. That is to say nothing of the more garden variety idiocies of the new text editing, such as the irritating tags that show up when copying and pasting reviews to other websites and the lack of basic information like word counts showing on the pages themselves. Clearly the people who design WordPress thought that they were being very innovative and novel in their work, but, as I have noted before, it is trash as far as quality is concerned [1].

These examples, and many others, are demonstrative of the fact that creativity, in the sense that it is worth praising, is something that leads to positive solutions to problems based on issues of scarcity. To be creative requires wrestling with constraints, to form solutions that have a high degree of elegance about them. Above all, creativity, in these sense that it is to be praised, is something that is appreciated and enjoyed by its intended audience. We do not praise musicians for creating a combination of sounds that have never been heard before if that sound is unpleasant and disharmonious. We do not praise a novel combination of words together if those words are nonsensical or offensive. Nor do we praise novel combinations of code if the result is something that is actively unpleasant and irritating to use, like the new wordpress editor. It is a shame that there is often much more focus on novel than on pleasing creations, as it hinders the general appreciation of that which is new.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings, On Creativity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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