The “Novelty” of Creativity

Posted by @ 12:50 pm on May 8th, 2010

Here‘s an article at NYTimes about a dude mapping creativity in the brain. It’s a moderately interesting read. What caught my eye, however, was his working definition of creativity, which is noted as the “common definition of creativity”: the ability to combine novelty and usefulness in a particular social context.

The OED defines creativity as: Creative power or faculty; ability to create.

So, is creativity “novel”? I have some difficulty balancing the concept of creativity with “novelty,” which the OED defines as: “1a. Something new, not previously experienced, unusual, or unfamiliar; a novel thing.” BUT, but, then, later, “1e.  An often useless or trivial but decorative or amusing object, esp. one relying for its appeal on the newness of its design.” This definition is much more pejorative. There’s something extremely problematic about thinking of creativity as a combination of “novelty” and “usefulness,” which the OED defines as: “Having the ability or qualities to bring about good, advantage, benefit, etc.; helpful for any purpose; serviceable.”

To say that creativity is a balancing of novelty and usefulness implies that what is novel (here, insert “new” rather than “trivial”) is inherently useless. How is newness or innovation useless? Furthermore, if this definition the NYT uses is in fact the “accepted” definition, what does this say about creativity as a whole?