It is frequently maintained that creativity is a desirable and wholly positive attribute — implicit in such a claim is the idea that creativity is also an ideologically neutral attribute. Creativity is regularly understood to exist beyond ideology and politics, and more significantly, perhaps, beyond history. For this reason, cultural histories of the creative idea commonly take a substantialist approach to their object of study — in that they take as their starting point an idea of creativity as a fixed or substantial reality that exists outside and beyond the historical field. The manifold possibilities of history are therefore reduced to a narrative about approaches to, or departures from, this fixed constant, and the task of the historian is reduced to one of identifying and describing pure and unadulterated forms of the creative idea, or unmasking corrupt and alienated versions. Hence, for example, in Raymond Williams’ influential histories of the creative idea, successive historical figures come ‘very near to’ (1961/2001: 37) apprehending creativity for what it really is, or else depart from this extra-historical constant in ways that Williams’ judges to be ‘confusing and at times seriously misleading’ (Williams 1976/1983: 84).
Nelson, C. (2012). Creativity, fragments of the history of an idea. Paper presented at the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Annual Conference: Materialities, Economies, Empiricism and Things, University of Sydney, 4-6 December, 2012.