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The concept of creativity throughout history

The concept of creativity throughout history

May 6, 2021

Creativity is a human psychological phenomenon that has favorably served the evolution of our species, as well as intelligence. In fact, for a long time, they have become confused.

At present, it is argued that creativity and intelligence have a close relationship , but which are two different dimensions of our psychic world; highly creative people are not smarter, nor are those who have a high IQ more creative.

Part of the confusion about what creativity is is due to the fact that, for centuries, creativity has been covered with a mystical-religious halo . Therefore, practically until the twentieth century, its study has not been addressed scientifically.


Even so, since ancient times, it has fascinated us and we have tried to explain its essence through philosophy and, more recently, applying the scientific method, especially from Psychology.

Creativity in Antiquity

The Hellenic philosophers tried to explain creativity through divinity . They understood that creativity was a kind of supernatural inspiration, a whim of the gods. The creative person considered himself an empty vessel that a divine being filled with the necessary inspiration to create products or ideas.

For example, Plato argued that the poet was a sacred being, possessed by the gods, that he could only create what his muses dictated to him (Plato, 1871). From this perspective, creativity was a gift accessible to a select few, which implies an aristocratic vision of it that will last until the Renaissance.


Creativity in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages, considered an obscurantist period for the development and understanding of the human being, arouses little interest for the study of creativity. It is not considered a time of creative splendor , so there was not much effort in trying to understand the mechanism of creation.

In this period, man was completely subject to the interpretation of the biblical scriptures and all his creative production was oriented to pay tribute to God. A curious fact of this era is the fact that many creators will resign to sign their works, which evidenced the denial of their own identity.

Creativity in the Modern Age

In this stage, the divine conception of creativity becomes blurred to give way to the idea of ​​hereditary trait . Simultaneously, a humanistic conception emerges, from which man is no longer a being abandoned to his destiny or to divine designs, but co-author of his own future.


During the Renaissance the taste for aesthetics and art was retaken, the author recovers the authorship of his works and some other Hellenic values. It is a period in which the classic is reborn. The artistic production grows spectacularly and, consequently, the interest to study the mind of the creative individual also grows.

The debate about creativity, at this time, focuses on the duality "nature versus nurture" (biology or parenting), although without further empirical support. One of the first treatises on human ingenuity belongs to Juan Huarte de San Juan, Spanish doctor who in 1575 published his work "Examination of ingenios for sciences", precursor of Differential Psychology and Professional Guidance. At the beginning of the 18th century, thanks to figures such as Copernicus, Galileo, Hobbes, Locke and Newton, confidence grows in science as faith grows in human capacity to solve their problems through mental effort . Humanism is consolidated.

The first relevant investigation of modernity on the creative process takes place in 1767 by William Duff, who will analyze the qualities of the original genius, differentiating it from talent. Duff argues that talent is not accompanied by innovation, while the original genius does. The points of view of this author are very similar to the recent scientific contributions, in fact, he was the first to point towards the biopsychosocial nature of the creative act, demythologizing it and advancing two centuries to the Biopsychosocial Theory of Creativity (Dacey and Lennon, 1998).

Contrarily, during this same time, and fueling the debate, Kant understood creativity as something innate , a gift of nature, that can not be trained and that constitutes an intellectual trait of the individual.

Creativity in postmodernity

The first empirical approaches to the study of creativity do not occur until the second half of the nineteenth century , by openly rejecting the divine conception of creativity. Also influenced by the fact that at that time the Psychology began its split of the Philosophy, to become an experimental science, so it increased the positivist effort in the study of human behavior.

During the nineteenth century the conception of hereditary trait prevailed. Creativity was a characteristic feature of men and it took a long time to assume that there could be creative women. That idea was reinforced from the Medicine, with different findings on the heritability of physical features. An exciting debate between Lamarck and Darwin on genetic inheritance captured scientific attention for much of the century. The first argued that the traits learned could be passed between consecutive generations, while Darwin (1859) showed that genetic changes are not so immediate , neither result of practice or learning, but occur by random mutations during the phylogeny of the species, for which large periods of time are required.

Postmodernity in the study of creativity could situate it in the works of Galton (1869) on individual differences, very influenced by Darwinian evolution and by the associationist current. Galton focused on the study of the hereditary trait, dispensing with psychosocial variables. Two influential contributions stand out for further research: the idea of ​​free association and how it operates between the conscious and the unconscious, which Sigmund Freud will later develop from his psychoanalytic perspective, and the application of statistical techniques to the study of individual differences, what make it the author bridge between the speculative study and the empirical study of creativity .

The consolidation phase of Psychology

Despite the interesting work of Galton, the psychology of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was interested in simpler psychological processes, following the trajectory marked by Behaviorism, which rejected mentalism or the study of unobservable processes.

The behavioral domain postponed the study of creativity until the second half of the 20th century, with the exception of a couple of surviving lines of positivism, Psychoanalysis and Gestalt.

The Gestalt vision of creativity

The Gestalt provided a phenomenological conception of creativity . He began his career in the second half of the nineteenth century, opposing Galton's associationism, although his influence was not noticed until well into the twentieth century. The Gestaltists argued that creativity is not a simple association of ideas in a new and different way. Von Ehrenfels first used the term gestalt (mental pattern or form) in 1890 and based his postulates on the concept of innate ideas, as thoughts that originate completely in the mind and do not depend on the senses to exist.

Gestaltists argue that creative thinking is the formation and alteration of gestalts, whose elements have complex relationships forming a structure with some stability, so they are not simple associations of elements. They explain creativity by focusing on the structure of the problem , affirming that the mind of the creator has the ability to move from one structure to another more stable. Thus, the insight, or spontaneous new understanding of the problem (phenomenon Aha! or eureka!), occurs when a mental structure suddenly transforms into a more stable one.

This means that creative solutions are usually obtained by looking in a new way at an existing gestalt, that is, when we change the position from which we analyze the problem. According to the Gestalt, when we get a new point of view about the whole, instead of reorganizing its elements, creativity emerges .

Creativity according to psychodynamics

The psychodynamics made the first major effort of the twentieth century in the study of creativity. From psychoanalysis, creativity is understood as the phenomenon that emerges from the tension between conscious reality and the unconscious impulses of the individual. Freud argues that writers and artists produce creative ideas to express their unconscious wishes in a socially acceptable way , so that art is a compensatory phenomenon.

It contributes to demystifying creativity, arguing that it is not the product of muses or gods, nor a supernatural gift, but that the experience of creative illumination is simply the passage from the unconscious to the conscious.

The contemporary study of creativity

During the second half of the 20th century, and following the tradition initiated by Guilford in 1950, creativity has been an important object of study of Differential Psychology and Cognitive Psychology, although not exclusively of them. From both traditions, the approach has been fundamentally empirical, using historiometry, ideographic studies, psychometrics or meta-analytical studies, among other methodological tools.

Currently, the approach is multidimensional . We analyze aspects as diverse as personality, cognition, psychosocial influences, genetics or psychopathology, to mention some lines, while multidisciplinary, because there are many domains that are interested in it, beyond Psychology.Such is the case of the company studies, where creativity arouses great interest for its relationship with innovation and competitiveness.

A) Yes, During the last decade, research on creativity has proliferated , and the offer of training and training programs have grown significantly. Such is the interest to understand that research extends beyond academia, and occupies all kinds of institutions, including government. Their study transcends individual analysis, including group or organizational, to address, for example, creative societies or creative classes, with indexes to measure them, such as: Euro-creativity index (Florida and Tinagli, 2004); Creative City Index (Hartley et al., 2012); The Global Creativity Index (The Martin Prosperity Institute, 2011) or the Creativity Index in Bilbao and Bizkaia (Landry, 2010).

From Classical Greece to the present day, and despite the great efforts that we continue to devote to analyzing it, we have not even managed to reach a universal definition of creativity, so we are still far from understanding its essence . Perhaps, with the new approaches and technologies applied to psychological study, as is the case of the promising cognitive neuroscience, we can discover the keys of this complex and intriguing mental phenomenon and, finally, the 21st century will become the historical witness of such a milestone.

Bibliographic references:

  • Dacey, J. S., & Lennon, K. H. (1998). Understanding creativity. The interplay of biological, psychological and social factors. (1st ed) .. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Darwin, C. (1859). On the origin of the species by natural selection. Londom: Murray.
  • Of San Juan, J. H. (1575). Examination of ingenios for the sciences (2003- Dig.). Madrid: Universal virtual library.
  • Duff, W. (1767). Essay on Original Genius (Vol. 53). London, UK.
  • Florida, R., & Tinagli, I. (2004). Europe in the creative age. UK: Software Industry Center & Demos.
  • Freud, S. (1958). The relation of the poet to day-dreaming. In On creativity and the unconscious. Harper & Row Publishers.
  • Galton, F. (1869). Hereditary genius: an inquiry into its laws and consequences (2000 ed.) London, UK: MacMillan and Co.
  • Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. The American Psychologist.
  • Hartley, J., Potts, J., MacDonald, T., Erkunt, C., & Kufleitner, C. (2012). CCI-CCI Creative City Index 2012.
  • Landry, C. (2010). Creativity In Bilbao & Bizkaia. Spain.

The History of Creativity (May 2021).


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