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History and perception of creativity

How did the word ‘creativity’ emerge?

The English word creativity comes from the Latin term creare “to create, make”: its derivational suffixes also come from Latin. The word “create” appeared in English as early as the 14th century, notably in Chaucer, to indicate divine creation (in The Parson’s Tale). However, its modern meaning as an act of human creation did not emerge until after the Enlightenment (18th century).

General agreement and perception

“Over the last decade, we seem to have reached a general agreement that creativity involves the production of novel, useful products,” says Michael Mumford. Or, in Robert Sternberg’s words, the production of “something original and worthwhile”.

Pre – renaissance

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, creativity was the sole province of God; humans were not considered to have the ability to create something new except as an expression of God’s work. 

A concept similar to that of Christianity existed in Greek culture, for instance, Muses were seen as mediating inspiration from the Gods.

Romans and Greeks invoked the concept of an external creative “daemon” (Greek) or “genius” (Latin), linked to the sacred or the divine. However, none of these views are similar to the modern concept of creativity, and the individual was not seen as the cause of creation until the Renaissance. It was during the Renaissance that creativity was first seen, not as a channel for the divine, but from the abilities of “great men”.

  1. The metaphysical era, from antiquity to the Renaissance, in which a few geniuses are considered able to create from nothing (“ex nihilo”) through divine (or other) inspiration.

  2. The aristocratic era, from the Renaissance to the middle of the 20th century, in which a few charismatic geniuses are considered able to create from something.

  3. The democratic era, from the middle of the 20th century up to today, in which anyone is considered able to create from anything.

  4. Conscient creativity in which all knowledgeable humans are considered able and wise enough to create something ethical and constructive for all.

To read about definitions of creativity through the era, see below.

definitions of creativity
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Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published on [] in 2019 as part of a collaborative group project involving four members. The intellectual input for this blog is a result of collective effort, and the rights to the content belong to all members of the group.

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