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Why We Should Stop Studying Creativity

There seems to be an interest of late in people having to repeat moments in their lives. In the TV show Preacher, hell is where bad people relive for infinity the worst moments of their lives.

And in Russian Doll, the two main characters keep redoing what led to their deaths until they learn a valuable lesson.

Movie poster for the film Groundhog Day

The concept isn’t new, of course.

The Bill Murray film Groundhog Day is the same premise. The film’s protagonist repeats Groundhog Day. And because Groundhog Day is a nineties film and because two TV shows don’t make a trend, I thought nothing of it.

But the short story in the Aug. 26, 2019 issue of The New Yorker is about a woman forced to repeat a day in her life.

So is repeat life moments a trend in storytelling? Or, maybe one idea is a riff off another idea?

Creativity Riffs

It could be that Preacher, which was a graphic novel before it was a TV show, was playing off the concept established in Groundhog Day. And then the people who created Russian Doll were inspired by Preacher, or maybe even Groundhog Day, too.

The writer of the New Yorker story, J. Robert Lennon, could have been influenced by all three, Preacher, Russian Doll, and Groundhog Day. Or, Lennon may have drawn inspiration from any combination of those three; Groundhog Day and Preacher or Russian Doll and Preacher or Groundhog Day and Russian Doll.

Even still, Lennon may have been thinking of another story that he’d read or watched that triggered his writing The New Yorker piece. (After all, I don’t presume to think I’ve consumed all existing repeat moment fiction.)

These are impossible questions.

Even if I could gather all of the creators together, from Lennon to the people who made the movie and TV shows mentioned above, it’s unlikely they would be able to explicitly tell me what inspired them to write the thing they wrote.

Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere.

Sources of Inspiration

What we create is an amalgamation of limitless sources.

We draw from our personal experiences to those of our friends and family to what we’ve read and seen. We use something we saw while driving down the highway, a song we heard at a particular moment in our lives, or the way the wind felt that day out on the lake when we were sixteen.

Legs of people sitting around a campfire.
Photo by Snapwire from Pexels

Seemingly as limitless as the sources of creative inspiration are books claiming to tell us from where creativity comes. These books have tricks and research that their authors declare illuminate once and for all from where people derive imagination and innovation.

But I don’t see the point in reading these books because I don’t believe anyone has figured it out.

There are perhaps a few unsolvable questions in life. One is why poor people routinely vote against their financial interest, and the other is the sources of our creativity.

And to me, that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t want to know exactly from where and on what J. Robert Lennon got his idea for his New Yorker story.

All I need to know is that the tale exists, I read it, and I enjoyed reading it. Knowing the specifics, the precise combination of what caused him to write every word of that story would minimize on me the impact of his piece.

Avoiding the Equation

Because creativity is not science, attempting to define all of the things that go into how creative people create puts creativity into a formula. And formulas can be solved.

I don’t want to solve the equation of creation.

For one thing, doing so would diminish the joy of creating and of consuming someone’s work. Secondly, if creativity is a formula, then it can be copied and repeated, meaning anyone who wants to create something delightful can do so.

What kind of world is this if it’s filled with a ceaseless flow of inspiring, entertaining creations?

In that scenario, wouldn’t we lose the awe of seeing or hearing or reading or watching something for the first time?

What is Michelangelo’s David if next door is another one just like it? What is Toni Morrison’s Beloved if someone tomorrow can copy Morrison’s formula and produce a similar work?

Creativity is not copyable. And we should stop trying.

Some things in this world should be sacred from scientific study. Please, let an artist’s muse be one of them.