The term “creative” has been so misused that no one knows what it means anymore. Clients, tending to be rather left-brain, are sometimes the worst offenders, as they are actually wanting something a lot safer (more left-brain) than something truly creative.
I took my shot at defining creativity in my book, “Parallel Mind, The Art of Creativity.” In it I proposed two main categories, which I coined as “pure creativity” and “applied creativity.”
Pure creativity is the natural impulse to create without a need for application or commercial reward: the fine arts fall into this category, although specific artists may not be practicing pure creativity. Pure creativity is germaine to what one may call the natural (unsocialized) human. Children are good examples of this. Pure creativity doesn’t have to be good art. In a way, it is simply an expression of what it means to be human.
The other category is “applied creativity.” This category is very broad, including everything that most people think of as creative. Applied creativity is practical, and tends to be goal-oriented: in the minds of people it has worth only if it can demonstrate a commercial or practical value. You can see how this category includes everything that a client can think of: software programming, business creation, marketing, design, copywriting, etc.
Of course, a client has no use for “pure creativity” because, by its nature, is not very left-brain, practical, or commercial. However, I would go so far to say that experiencing pure creativity is essential for a creative’s personal and professional development.
This is why a broad education in fine art, literature, or even liberal arts is such a wonderful experience, especially at the time of life when one normally attends college: the mind is much easier to open at the ages of 19-22 than at any other time. Typically, if one waits too long, the left-brain has become too dominant to allow right-brain inspiration and flexibility. Once we are out in the world, the pressures of professional employment and monetary considerations may be too intense to overcome. Its similar to trying to walk before you crawl; if you try to learn applied creativity without first exploring pure creativity your ideas and inspiration will be unnecessarily constricted.
There are many other reasons to attend school in the fine arts, especially if one ends up in the applied arts. For instance, a graphic designer with both an education in world culture and graphic design has a rich pool of images and ideas that consciously or unconsciously fuel his design. A marketer with a solid understanding of world culture and global art history will find it much easier to market overseas.
The occasional or full-time practice of pure creativity stretches the mind. One can take the Olympian gymnasts as a metaphor: a gymnast warms up and stretches with drills (pure creativity) that don’t count to their score. Only when they have done this first can they perform a flawless routine and score high (applied creativity).
In my book, I recommend that all creatives spend some time exploring pure creativity–to get out of their comfort zone (and left-brain dominated activities) as a release from the stress to perform for their clients’ bank accounts, and as a way to develop new ideas, and recharge their work.