Creative or useful?

In Saturday’s post I mentioned my son’s creativity. Among the various traits I want to encourage in my sons, creativity rates fairly high. One day recently my younger son was feeling very discouraged, though I forget what particular circumstances were the cause. He said he was useless, that he couldn’t do anything worthwhile. As his mother, I naturally wanted to affirm what he does well, so I pointed out how creative he is.

He wanted to know what is useful about creativity, and I admit it was not an easy question to answer. I pointed out that there are jobs that are all about creativity (all the arts, most kinds of entertainment), and that in just about any job creativity is helpful. I didn’t comment on the fact that most of his current outlets for creativity have very limited commercial value (this was before we created The Alien Game); at ten years old that’s not an issue, and as he matures he can find ways to channel his creativity in ways that are valued by other people.

I hope he’ll never value creativity only for its “usefulness,” though. Seeing creativity primarily as a means to an end tends to short-circuit the process. By its nature, creativity must be free to go in unexpected directions, which may not appear at all useful.

This blog entry on Creatity and Commercialism explains the tension between teaching children to be creative and preparing them for the workplace.

When educators nurture students to be more creative, the students often do not blend in well in the workplace; when the educators stop doing so, organisations are requesting for more employees who are able to explore issues from multiple processes (which requires a certain degree of creativity).

I was thinking about creativity in particular today because of the news about Disney buying Marvel. According to Marvel CEO Bob Iger, “This is not going to be about Disney sanitizing Marvel in any way.” But many comic book fans worry about the future of their favorite characters in the hands of a company that has often been accused of subordinating good story creation to selling lots of merchandise.

I’m no great comic book fan myself. Not the Marvel kind of comic book anyway – I’d much rather read Calvin and Hobbes. My husband watches all the comic-book based movies, and buys the better ones, but I only watch a few of them. As I commented to him this evening (he is watching TV episodes via the web), he seems to watch a lot of “dark” shows. Some are good, but others are too dark for me.

I can certainly sympathize with the concerns of Marvel fans, however. I am certainly a fan of books, and movies made from books rarely live up to their literary inspiration. Sometimes very creative movies do well at the box office, but most movies (successful and unsuccessful alike) tend to follow tried-and-true formulas, hoping to duplicate previous commercial successes.

I read a couple articles assuring Marvel fans they have nothing to worry about. Disney the company owns a number of other brands that are marketed separately from the Disney brand, and they are quite capable of keeping Marvel and Disney (the brand) distinct. They want to appeal to boys, and they don’t want to risk losing a lucrative market by spoiling the brand they paid so much for. I hope that is true, but I am skeptical. Even the Disney brand shows don’t seem nearly as good as they used to be.

While I’m thinking about creativity, I can’t pass on the opportunity to include a quote from a Dean Koontz book I am reading (By the Light of the Moon). Dylan, a painter, expresses his view of human creativity:

Our creative reflects divine creativity because we think new things into existence every day – new inventions, new architectures, new chemical compounds, new manufacturing processes, new works of art, new recipes for bread and pie and pot roast. … We don’t have godlike power, so we aren’t able to transform our thought energy directly into matter. … but guided by thought and reason, … we can use other kinds of energy to transform existing matter into virtually anything we conceive.


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