The Creativity Complex
Art, Tech, and the Seduction of an Idea
How notions of creativity have evolved to serve the goals of neoliberalism—and what we can do about it
“Creativity” is a word that excites and dazzles us. It promises brilliance and achievement, a shield against conformity, a channel for innovation across the arts, sciences, technology, and education, and a mechanism for economic revival and personal success. But it has not always evoked these ideas. The Creativity Complex traces the history of how creativity has come to mean the things it now does, and explores the ethical implications of how we use this term today for both the arts and for the social world more broadly. Richly researched, the book explores how creativity has been invoked in arenas as varied as Enlightenment debates over the nature of cognition, Victorian-era intelligence research, the Cold War technology race, contemporary K-12 education, and even modern electoral politics. Ultimately, The Creativity Complex asks how our ideas about creativity are bound up with those of self-fulfillment, responsibility, and the individual, and how these might seduce us into joining a worldview and even a set of social imperatives that we might otherwise find troubling.
Shannon Steen is Associate Professor of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies and American Studies at UC Berkeley.
Praise / Awards
“What has made creativity a ‘seductive idea’ for decades, if not centuries? The Creativity Complex demonstrates that the history of creativity is just as fascinating as its future. Steen’s writing does justice to the complexity of both creativity and its evolution and will be a key resource for anyone interested in art, tech, education, and the creativity of tomorrow.”
—Vlad Glaveanu, Dublin City University
“A wonderfully damning study of the ways discourses of creativity have supported neoliberal policy formations that have decimated many of the institutions in which art is taught and made. The aspiration to a creative life has been used against people, Steen argues. What would it mean to really honor it? Steen’s answers are indispensable.”
—Sarah Brouillette, Carleton University
“Provides a much-needed and unprecedented overview of how ‘creativity’ has been defined and deployed beyond the arts, revealing the cluster of institutions, ideologies, and practices that now center around the word. People in technology studies and across the arts have been waiting for a book that does what this one does. They will shove it into the hands of their colleagues, higher-ed administrators, economic or political theorists, and other people who have the power to shape what ‘creativity’ means and how it is institutionalized. Steen tracks the ‘creativity complex’ across industries, across centuries, and across continents.”
—Christopher Grobe, Amherst College
“An essential intervention. Steen argues that the idea of creativity sustains ideologies that justify the structural inequalities, economic injustice and environmental degradation that characterize contemporary capitalism in the USA. Deeply researched, persuasively argued and elegantly written, The Creativity Complex is a crucial contribution to critical scholarship on cultural production today.”
—Nicholas Ridout, Queen Mary, University of London
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