SO, what is creativity?  It's a concept i try to work through on pretty much a daily basis.  

And i certainly think it has relevance to anyone involved in any creative endeavor.  Although at that point we've already reached the level of misnomer, defining a concept by referencing itself.  Like the notion in artificial intelligence research of the homunculus, which could be thought of as intelligence being defined by a little person inside the brain pulling the strings who has another little person inside it's brain, etc. So once you get to the point of defining a phenomena at the level of the homunculus you're completely missing the point, or at least not explaining anything.

So again, what is creativity?  Obviously as an artist you'd like to tap into it.  To be perceived as being creative.  Hopefully to be driven by the spark of creativity and the energy it gives you as you explore it, which i personally think is a much better place to be coming from than just the desire to be perceived as creative.

Is creativity necessary to create art?  i wonder. I think my reflex answer would be 'of course it is'.  But maybe that's my perceived bias.  maybe that notion is totally off base.

Thomas Edison is quoted as saying 'genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration'.  There's also a hilarious quote from J.G. Bennett on Robert Fripp's 'Exposure' album that goes something like 'having a bad disposition is no obstacle to work'.  I think both of these disparate references by masters of their individual craft are pointing out something very similar. Maybe the focus on the 'magic' of creativity is missing the point.  The real point is putting in the time, putting in enough time and energy into your particular craft to make something interesting happen.  And at the end of the day we call that creativity.  And attribute the results to our resident imagined creative homunculus that lives somewhere within us in some hidden place.

Now i'm probably a little unusual because i ask this 'what is creativity' question wearing several different hats.  I'm interested in the notion of tapping into creativity from the standpoint of creating visual imagery.  It's something i like to do.  Hopefully i get better at it over time.

But i'm also interested in building machines or software programs that are creative in themselves.  Studio Artist can be viewed through many different lens, but one of them is the notion of exploring artificial creativity.  Studio Artist is a giant sand box that allows for exploration of all kinds of notions of visual intelligence, visual and artistic representation, etc.  Some people get excited about this whole concept.  Other people get highly offended. Even physically angry in some extreme cases.

So a mechanistic explanation or model of creativity is of huge interest to me.  Because in order to build a creative machine or software system you have to get down to working with mechanistic descriptions at some level to do anything. Otherwise it's just all discussion of philosophy.

Now we could argue all day about whether Studio Artist is capable of creative or intelligent behavior.  It has passed the Turing test, we've submitted artwork generated by pressing the action button to art contests curated by human judges and won prizes.  I certainly have my own opinions about what works well, what doesn't, what needs more research,  what we don't understand, etc. That whole topic is probably better suited for another discussion thread if anyone is interested.

What got me initially started on this whole creativity philosophical discussion this morning was some reflection on a technique that seems to underlie a lot of my personal brushes with creativity.  It involves the notion of recombination. Taking some piece of information, or technique, that was designed to do some very specific thing, and then twisting it around and using it in a totally different way.

So at least for me, i think that this approach to working is something that underlies most of the creative work i've done over the years. Both technical and artistic.  

Even the core ideas embedded in Studio Artist are really a manifestation of this particular approach.  Studio Artist takes well developed practices and ideas from music synthesis and auto software and re-conceptualizes them  in the context of digital art and computer image generation.  All of the visual intelligence computational modeling living inside of Studio Artist is based on pre-existing research in cognitive neuroscience, it's just being taken and used in a very different context then it was originally intended to be used in.

Another key component of why i think Studio Artist succeeds is related to the notion of synchronicity. By this i mean the sum of the parts in some combined entity being more than the individual component pieces added together. When Studio Artist really succeeds artistically i think the notion of underlying synchronicity is a key component in that success. So perhaps this is another notion of defining creativity i need to think through more. And perhaps it's a bridge between mechanistic descriptions of creative systems and the notion that some people have that none of this phenomena can ever be modeled or doing so misses the whole point of it.  But keep in mind, if you're building software at some point you have to get concrete in your descriptions and analysis or you'll never get anything accomplished.  

The Portrait Virus Mutations project i recently undertook is what has me currently mulling over this whole notion of 'what is creativity'. Like many projects of this nature, starting it has ended up leading me in whole new directions i would not have initially conceived of if i hadn't started down that particular path. I'll be posting more information on those developments as they unfold. 

And i'm also getting some really interesting feedback from other Studio Artist users about how the notion of stack filtering relates to their own work that i hope to post more details on soon.  If you have your own thoughts on this feel free to contact me directly or post something here on the forum

So, i hope you find some of this discussion relevant to your own work. I'm certainly interested in other people's thoughts on this notion of 'what is creativity'. 

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I ran across the 'formal theory of fun and creativity' today while doing some web research, so i thought i'd pass it along to this discussion thread since it apparently 'explains all of science, art, humor, and music' (ha,ha).


How the Theory Explains Art. Artists (and observers of art) get rewarded for making (and observing) novel patterns: data that is neither arbitrary (like incompressible random white noise) nor regular in an already known way, but regular in way that is new with respect to the observer's current knowledge, yet learnable (that is, after learning fewer bits are needed to encode the data)


Actually the relationship between something like a really good sketch and the notion of 'compression' is something i have rattled on about here before, so there is a point to the 'theory' i can agree with.  And if you want to write a paper for scientific types you can always invoke 'Kolmogorov complexity', like the 'theory' does.  Which is just a fancy way of talking about 'compression' of data.


I guess for someone non-technical, here's a way to think about what i mean by compression. A really great artist is able to convey a complete image, including subject matter and emotional content in just a few very carefully constructed sketch lines. If you think of the original image they are sketching as being composed of pixels, there's a tremendous amount of information there that is needed to make up the image. Reducing that to a few carefully placed sketch lines reduces the amount of data needed to represent the image by a huge amount, hence the process involves some form of intelligent data compression.


There's probably something to the whole concept of 'novel but not arbitrary' as well. Of course that's a pretty vague explanation, but i would hope you can see the rational behind it.

The actual technical theory gets into the notion of agent based systems composed of dual adaptive predictor and reinforcement learner modules, that work together to maximize expected reward. If you're an AI or neural net researcher that will make sense, otherwise it probably sounds like some alien language.


Of course none of this gets into what i was initially thinking about when i started this conversation, which was the notion of synchronicity and reconceptualization being important parts of creativity systems or people's approach to creativity. Which i think gets more to the heart of how 'creativity' works in some respects than just creating novelty through 'recombination subject to reducing algorithmic complexity'.


Anyway, more food for thought regarding the topic of 'what is creativity', so i thought i'd pass it on.

I am not convinced that compression is truly part of the equation.


There is a neurobiological understanding of what is going on with the reward feedback and learning in these "novel" patterns. One of the most famous examples comes from music. Specifically the first performance of Stravinsky's Rites of Spring in Paris May 1913. To shorten the story a bit the audience literally rioted. It is understood today that the patterns in the music were "incomprehensible" to the audience- specifically the auditory cortex  of (apparently most of) the audience had never encountered anything like the dissonance and irregular tempo of the piece. The auditory cortex is hardwired to seek familiarity when it fails to be able to sequence a sound it stimulates the flight or fight response. But there is a corollary here. The effort to discern a pattern triggers the release of positve reinforcing neuro transmitters.. serotonin among others. So when a pattern takes a bit of time to figure out but not so much time as to trigger a "panic" there is a reward to the brain. 


Of course the "learning" is wired in- literally new neural connections are made. Once a pattern becomes "compressed" such that decoding it takes less effort, the reward is also diminished. This is why "new" stimulates and the familiar leads to boredom. The visual cortex is also a pattern recognition machine. Though the corticofugal feedback loop might be different in quality than what we get from visual stimulation. The "aha" moment that occurs when one comprehends a new visual stimulus is a simulacrum. 


The difference in this description from the above is primarily that the concept of "compression" meaning a simplified representation is not at the core of the reward. Indeed the stimulus could be overtly complex or reductionist the significant factor is novelty that forces the brain to struggle just enough, but not too much to "understand" what it is looking at. --this of course is different for each viewer, hence the concept of a "jaded" viewer. Really this is just a viewer that has seen a lot of patterns thus will require a different level of novelty to be stimulated.


All of this actually having little to do with creativity and a lot to do with how one's work might be received.

My other take on his 'theory' is that when you get down to actually trying to make something it doesn't really tell you much about how to do it (especially from the standpoint of building machines that are creative). It's more of an after the fact 'look the output matches my description' theory as opposed to an actual recipe you can use to actually make something.


I think information compression is actually an important component of a lot of interesting artwork. But you bring up a good point about whether it has anything to do with creativity or just the representational forms or techniques used to build the piece of art.

"All of this actually having little to do with creativity and a lot to do with how one's work might be received."

Received, yes, but more importantly, perceived.

And that "perceiving" is above all applying to how the artist sees his/her own work (which, as we all should know, can change greatly over "time").

You can twist and turn as much as you want, you can't escape the simple (!) fact that every "thing" (that includes neuroscience as well) starts with/in/by (an act of) perception.

And that "Perception is consitutive" as Merleau-Ponty demonstrated ("perception has an active dimension, in that it is a primordial openness to the life world").

Quoted from  here


Earlier on, Husserl clearly understood that (much of Merleau-Ponty's work was done in Husserl's footsteps), there's a wealth of pointers on Husserl  here.


Closer to us in time, and space, Robert Pirsig was "in there" as well: Pirsig aims towards a perception of the world that embraces both sides, the rational and the romantic. This means encompassing "irrational" sources of wisdom and understanding as well as science, reason and technology. In particular, this must include bursts of creativity and intuition that seemingly come from nowhere and are not (in his view) rationally explicable. Pirsig seeks to demonstrate that rationality and Zen-like "being in the moment" can harmoniously coexist. He suggests such a combination of rationality and romanticism can potentially bring a higher quality of life.

(quoted from here)


As I have written at length before, here and elsewhere, we function by constantly swinging between two poles, from "flux-reclaiming" to "stasis-reclaiming," from "boredom" to "fear."

That precedes the dissecting of experience by way of looking at the "hardware" (so to speak), "it" does *always* begin as a subjective act (of perception), the mechanics are an a posteriori "explanation" which, as all scientific explanations, are  always subject to change based on the latest discoveries (from flat to round world, etc...).

Though I feel embarrassed by my limitations and am a bit perplexed and overwhelmed by the complexity of quite a number of these discourses on creativity, I do grab hold onto bits and pieces. Peeling away layers to get to a core that seems infinite in nature is the process that Edison described as perspiration. To be willing and determined is to have the courage to do it. That is noble. Is this creativity? In my opinion, no. Will it open the doorway to what I would describe as an aspect of an energy form that I feel is currently labeled the creative or creativity? I say yes. Why even ask what creativity is? To what purpose? Is it in fact a desire to reach an understanding that helps build (create) a piece of software endowed with creative principles that enable further creativity? To overcome limits.This too is both noble and creative. In viewing this proposition, it is important to keep in mind "relativity." What is creative for one person may represents a "lower" level of consciousness (creativity) for another. Does creativity demand perception, ie,  recognition as mentioned by Jean? Or is it enough for what I am describing as an energy form just to "be." An idea is one aspect of this energy form, a physical object is a manifest energy form. Does existence require the awareness in order for it to exist? Or is perception a facility that allows one to transcend the one ever present moment to another ever present moment even though they are always unified? The concept of compression of data sounds very much like the relationship between a long novel and poetry. It is certainly invaluable in simplifying our complex lives to discover a zen like essence and is a necessary component in regards to building software.

Since I am in the midst of my Thomas Hart Benton Renaissance, I close my comments with a relevant quote, a Benton passage from a book I am reading called "Tom and Jack" subtitled The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollack by Henry Adams:

"The creative process is a sort of flowering, unfolding process, where actual ends, not intentions but ends arrived at, can not be foreseen. Method involving matter develops, whether the artist wills it or not, a behavior of its own, which has a way of making exigent demands, devastating to preconceived notions of a goal. Art is born not in preconception or dreaming but in work. And in work with materials whose behavior in actual use has more to do than preconceived notions with determining the actual character of ends."

Benton obviously preceded the digital revolution. But his quote eerily reminds me of Studio Artist. John and Jean, I think you both would love this book. It starts out with a great quote from Kierkegaard.

Does creativity demand perception, ie,  recognition as mentioned by Jean?

Paul, not so much "recognition" as "discovery!"

"To make the visible visible" is another way of putting it.

For decades, I have lectured (and worked!) on this very topic, one of my favorite lecture titles is "What do I see before knowing what it is I am looking at?" (That site was built in 1997, I have done very very little work on it since, so be kind to its content and "design";-)

Pirsig said that "we should keep Quality undefined" and if I do obviously agree with him, I never-the-less throw a little spin on that: I claim that not "only" Quality, but Reality/Self are also unknown(able), so a definition would be a mere approximation, not "The  Truth" (though that definition may provide a workable temporary step in one's search). 

Our "ever present moments" are unified by a process that is built-in (that could be taken into consideration when engineering software by the way;-), namely passive retention and passive protention: this moment is made of a passive retaining of (some of) what happened before, and contains as well a slight projection in the future of (some of) what is likely to happen.

If this were not the case, you would not be able to make sense of this (or any) writing, nor of music, nor of any "time-based" experience (is there another kind?;-).


Something well worth reflecting upon, it is actually mind-boggling when grasped...


Assiduous art work (not the dilettante approach, but the "full-time" commitment) leads to experiences that no longer conform to our habitual world-view, moments when (for example) time seems to stand still, "familiar" surroundings appear totally unknown, and it is in how we can "rationalize" (integrate) those experiences that we manifest how much we are able to cope -creatively- with our reality, that infinite manifold (as per Husserl), that great unknown.

Intelligence has once been defined as "not made by the total sum of what one knows, but by how well one can function when one no longer knows what to do."

A far cry from "power"and "know-how" wouldn't you say?

Husserl's "catering to the appearing as it appears" could be paraphrased as "catering to the complexity of our life as it manifests itself."

As soon as we try to simplify that complexity, we shut the door on what our experience is capable of teaching us ("we derive meaning from our experience while simultaneously projecting meaning into it" as Merleau -Ponty said).

I submit that it is likely when we get "lost" in the complexity of the experience/task at hand that our best work emerges, and absolutrely not when we are in control making "things" behave according to our intentions.

So many of our greatest artists in all art forms (even in science actually) have made that clear, our very best work always happens as if by "accident."

Jackson Pollock (not "Pollack", a common mistake, and a pet-peeve of mine;-) was a master at recognizing that potential (and extremely good at setting conditions by which those "accidents" could happen), and to summarize that, I'll quote something he once said when asked by a visitor why he no longer painted "from nature."

His reply was immediate, and if coarse, never-the-less very much to the point: "Fuck man, I'm nature!"

I'd be curious to know that Kierkegaard quote you refer to, one of my heroes is Miguel de Unamuno, who was greatly influenced by Kierkegaard.

His "Tragic Sense of Life" (Spanish: Del Sentimiento Trágico de la Vida) is one of the books that are very important to me.

Here's a quote from Miguel de Unamuno that is related to all that is written above: "My religion is to seek for truth in life and for life in truth, even knowing that I shall not find them while I live."

If we can take this "unknown/unknowable quality" as our starting point, and treat it as-is, things start opening in ways we cannot fathom as long as we remain trapped in a positivist "world" ("The fallacy of misplaced concreteness").


Thanks for such a rich discourse.  It will take a while for me to savor it and respond.

However I can reply instantly to the Kierkegaard quote:

It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has oneself prevented from becoming realities. A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it. In every man there is latent the highest possibility; one must follow it. If God does not wish it, then let him prevent it, but one must not hinder oneself. Trusting to God I have dared, but I was not successful; in that is to be found a peace, calm and confidence in God. I have not dared: that is a woeful thought, a torment in eternity. 


thanks for the quote Paul.. quite something to think upon.
You're welcome. Seeing the quote at the beginning of the book on Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock and was all the inspiration I needed to buy the book. The entire book is great.

Thanks Paul.

Very nice and deep indeed, and somethig akin to a prescription for a way of life.

Problem is, those hints are so often very subtle, very elusive, and if one's head is filled with projects, intentions and expectations, one is literally blinded by all that "noise."

Picasso again: "What saved me is that I became more interested in what I found than in what I was looking for."

This is too often misread as being a license for "anything goes."

Far, far, very far from it.

This post is very personal, and in no way is intended to insult or exult anyone.  Nor is it intended as a literal reply to the original challenge of defining Creativity. 

Reading on the majority of replies to this provocative challenge of trying to define Creativity, so far i see very little originality.
It feels to me as if a sign has been cast at the door: 'No Creativity Allow to talk bout creativity'.

Probably this association truly is a forced one,  but all of this have reminded me of the opening little parable 'Before the Law' of Kafka's 'The Trail'...
a dis-empower creature waiting for The authorize 'Go Ahead: SHINE'...

It kills me to read again and again, the old and typical quotation of the oblige cliché Masters,

Philosophers and scientists. As if they, and their ideas, were in itself, close and finished realities.

Where are the Studio Artist user's philosophies, principles or theories? i wonder.
Or, al least, where are the original interpretations and representations of that famous oblige

philosophy, artistry and science?

i don't get it. Why is it so difficult to come up with a brilliant idea?, or any novel idea, actually.
Some here have got the know how or have the experience and/or plain old curiosity -and luck- to push their visual concepts to its very edges.
But, when it comes to reflect upon it, most of the same great Studio Artist's artists, go back to repeat the typical
(and i suspect, because of it 'ready made' nature, false old mantras).
On this tread that suppose to be reflecting on Creativity i found see so very little -original- Creation.
Knowing that dullness is violence again the soul; Are we, as contemporaneous, been transform -transmute by the evil power of 'Average' into a brutalized society? Are we becoming brutes? A truly unoriginal and insensitive bunch of automatons, perfectly programmed to repeat others Tones and Shades? Dull and blinding fluorescent tubes, when we wished to have been a Fresnel for a Xenon, or a Tungsten Lamp?. Aim and direction... for my powerful soul fire.
Or, if no power or direction,  at least aim to be a candle, and so modestly illuminate the personal orbit of what made up my humble surroundings.

What if, without knowing it, all of us are been deluded into believing that what we call art, or creativity, is in actuality Artistic or Creative?
What if our very definitions are just illusions. Only artifacts. Noise. Noise generated by the very limited -almost non existing- differences in the stimuli that surrounds and impregnates us all, in this vast and monotonal

digital cultural media broth? As if we were submerged on a cultural cloud of static aesthetics, where the cultural artifacts that makes up the swamp of modern mass cultural media, are just a reduction, a pale reflection of a much more Rich and Deep possible Original.
e.g. the actual stated of the American Film Industry (and its obsCine creations!)

Look at the hideous Aronofky's (latest) work 'Antichrist'.
Formally sublime, indeed. But. Why is there this dissonance in between it's beautiful -exquisite actually- formal representation of the mysteries and depths of the human soul, and what's in actuality been described in its philosophical discourse on womanhood, manhood, parenthood,
love, guilt and forgiveness ...on the flesh and on the spirit?
The fact that D. Aronosfky choose to dedicate 'Antichrist' to S.Tarkovsky , (a real deal -Soviet- Master), makes the whole status quo much more pathetically evident: Pretentious and empty. Same thing with most of western contemporary ideas and its expressions, in general, just a copy of itself. Like a mass produce (and -re-compress, mind you) photocopy of a photocopy of a copy an long gone original.
All this dense kind of noise is, in my opinion, what's plotting Against All of Us, blinding our starving souls into believing in an spiritual and intellectual feast that Was, and Is and Will, never be there.  And so, unaware, we starve in this orgiastic seamless transit into our own cultural fading into black.

I actually think you are addressing one of my original questions, 'is creativity required to create art', maybe from the back door rather than the front door.


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