What is creativity?

Dictionary.com has a few different takes on the noun “creativity” :

1. the state or quality of being creative.
2. the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination:
the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.
3. the process by which one utilizes creative ability:
Extensive reading stimulated his creativity.

Peeling back another layer with the adjective “creative,” the same source gives us :

1. having the quality or power of creating.
2. resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.; imaginative:
creative writing.
3. originative; productive (usually followed by of).
4. Facetious. using or creating exaggerated or skewed data, information, etc.:
creative bookkeeping.

Keeping these related definitions in mind, we’re brought neatly to my current intellectual subject of choice, art, and in particular to two very contrasting large-scale sculptors, Jeff Koons and Richard Serra, both of whom are living and near the tippity-top of the oft-contentious auction world.

As it happens, I first came into contact with these two artists in the same day, in the same gallery, almost exactly ten years ago. It was 2009 and The Girl and I were on our first European adventure together. While contemporary fine art wasn’t quite my jam back then, architecture’s in my blood, so we naturally enough found ourselves at the Guggenheim Bilbao designed by Frank Gehry. It was only incidentally that, on permanent exhibition out front the titanium-clad sculpture we’d traveled halfway around the world to see, was a decidedly less metallic proposition entitled “Puppy” by Jeff Koons ; bow-wowing, but hardly bowing, in the presence of architectural greatness.

Jeff Koon Puppy at Guggenheim Bilbao - August 2009

“Puppy,” maintained using an elaborate internal irrigation system, was and is a living floral arrangement in the shape of man’s best friend, and one that similarly requires immense and even dubious levels of attention.i Still, it’s a soft and entirely welcome juxtaposition against Gehry’s career-launching crumpled letter. Completed in 1997, the monstrously well-behaved West Highland terrier stands over 40-feet tall, dominating the public entrance and even managing to overshadow Louise Bourgeois’ 27-foot-tall-and-hardly-subtle “Maman on the other side of the museum terrace.

Inside the Guggenheim, and also part of the permanent collection was an entire room of Richard Serra‘s larger-than-life steel ribbon sculptures entitled “The Matter of Time.” Curving and winding their way around the patrons, the slender steel walls enveloped and invited in a way entirely atypical of almost any other sculpture found in international museums and galleries.ii

This sculptural groundwork being laid, we’re now primed to address today’s question : which of these two artists can we consider “creative” ? Koons or Serra ?

Presuming it’s for us to say, and putting aside for the moment the fact that the market elite have already spoken loudly and clearly on the matter, on the one hand we have a chap who takes seemingly ordinary objects of “Americana” and reframes them in the fashion of Duchamp and Virgil, and on the other hand we have another chap who makes giant strips of rusting metal and then tells people to touch them. One is “kitschy,” the other is “innovative.” One is an obsessive perfectionist, the other embraces a few fingerprints. One invites attention, the other invites touch. One invites selfies, the other invites physical exploration. One magnifies the familiar, one magnifies the abstract. One investigates the everyday, one investigates dreams. Both are American sculptors working contemporaneously and installing some of the largest works of art in the world. Both transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, and create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.

Both are creating and I’d argue that both are creative, but at least in our most recent debates on the matter, The Girl is keen to disagree, seeing Koons’ (alleged) lack of imagination as the mortal blow against him.iii Since I consider filtering and selection to be a creative processes,iv I naturally include Koons alongside Serra in Camp Creative, but what say you ?

Do you consider consider Koons and Serra creative ? Do you consider yourself creative ?
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  1. The approx. 37`000 plants are switched over twice per year for optimal seasonal adaptation in addition to which upwards of thirty (30!) gardeners are required for weekly maintenance.

    As with “fur babies,” all of this effort confers no first-order reproductive advantage, but of course this doesn’t rule out second-order benefits.

  2. While I did manage to take a picture of “Puppy,” seen above, instead of taking pictures of “The Matter of Time,” I apparently thought it more important to take pictures of the E30 M3 and Toyota iQ parked out front the gallery. What does that tell you about my priorities a decade ago ?! The picture of the Serra herebelow is from Britannica.


  3. Interestingly, a decade ago The Girl saw nothing either original nor inventive about Serra. I distinctly recall an hour-long conversation where I it was thrust upon me as devil’s advocate (and defender of the arts) to demonstrate that physically interacting with sculpture and utilising forms not found in nature were indeed noteworthy accomplishments. Even today, I maintain the first point about the uniqueness of physical interaction with fine art though I must concede that man has been making “non-natural” shapes since forever. Pray tell, where is the perfect cube in nature ? And don’t tell me pyrite is “perfect.”
  4. This could be our biological predispositions talking. Are men more inclined to see subtraction (war, murder) as adding value ? And women more inclined to see addition (birth) as adding value ?

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