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December 10, 2018

How to look at art: Nations are defined by creative people

Former Vice President Joseph Murumbi
Former Vice President Joseph Murumbi

A nation is defined by its creative people. As 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle proclaimed, ‘history is the history of great men’. ‘When a nation is overflowed with the first-state creative minds, it enjoys a golden age. When creative people are few and far between, a nation descends into a dark age’, writes behaviour scientist Keith Simonton in his book ‘Origins of Genius’.

‘So obvious is the debt nations owe creative individuals that the appearance of such geniuses is often considered an indication of the creative health of a civilised culture’. Creative people produce original and workable ideas for posterity. As Newton said, ‘Standing on the shoulders of creative geniuses, we see farther than the rest.’

How do the ‘first-state creative minds’ come about? Can we all become them, or they are one in a million?

High IQ does not determine creativity. In fact, a high IQ does not mean that an individual has any talent beyond the ability to score highly in tests. A high IQ person will not discover a cure for cancer or even make a better mousetrap. Knowledge is useless unless the brain knows how to connect it across a wide range of domains.

People who qualify to be called ‘geniuses’ — opinion leaders and originators of uniqueness — do not always make an IQ cut. A famous longitudinal study by Lewis Terman showed that none of the 1,500 children with a high IQ of 140 and more made any significant achievement in their adult lives. However, a boy, William Shockley, whom Terman excluded from his research for a low IQ, received a Nobel Prize in physics a few decades later. Charles Darwin was viewed by his teachers ‘as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect’. And yet, for his achievements, a list of ‘100 most influential people in history’ positioned Darwin in 17th place, straight after Moses!

Creativity can respond positively to education. Creative mind is largely the sociocultural phenomenon, not a genetically endowed ability. Creative minds need the environment that enhance creativity. An environment that celebrates creative predecessors and contemporary role models. An environment that puts a lesser focus on authority and ‘tradition’ and breaks down conventions to enable ideas to venture. An environment that actively supports artistic creation at school and at home. A school environment that does not strangle curiosity with dull instructions and endless tests. Economic prosperity is not required for creativity to flourish, contrary to some beliefs. Many creative activities demand no material support. However, the economic growth can bring social changes that can loosen intellectual perceptiveness.

We all can become the ‘first-state creative minds’. For this, education for creativity must not be limited to an elite group, while average people are reduced to an inert noncreative mass. Creativity belongs to the entire nation, and the universality of creativity is a sigh of its success. A nation must cultivate creativity to pass the creativity meme, the sociocultural ‘gene’, on to the next generations. As the need for survival rapidly intensifies in the age of the technological change, our creativity will be the key factor of the evolutional selection. 


Alla Tkachuk is a creativity specialist, the Founder of MASK, creativity training programme in Kenya,


©Alla Tkachuk July 2017

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