It is no secret that classroom teaching of writing across the nation is based on the principles of Rhetoric. And, of course, Rhetoric is all about forms and has nothing to do with newness and creativity. In fact, you might even say that the originators of Rhetoric, the Greeks, actually suppressed the concept of creativity.
Suppressing the concept of newness occurred with the ancient Greeks (around 1100 B.C. – 146 B.C.) because they believed nature was perfect, made by the Gods, and mankind could not improve upon it. So their culture, art, architecture, music, sculpture, and inventions revolved around searching for the rules of nature and imitating them, rather than being creative about, and with, the rules and principles of nature.
In the Greek mind, men were not creators like the Gods, and so they had no word or term that directly corresponded to our word creativity. The ancient Greeks did make an exception for poetry architecture essay writing, however, the one art in which they believed man could be thought of as making something. For the Greeks, nothing could be created new under the sun-except in poetry. In their idea of creativity, the early Christians were similar to the Greeks, yet more extreme.
Early and Medieval Christians believed that God created the world and everything in the universe out of nothing, so creativity or creatio (Latin) was a special attribute of His. Thus, Christians thought it was presumptuous of man-irreverent, disrespectful, even sacrilegious, to claim to have that godly ability, thereby cleverly denying mankind the honor of creativity and all the generating of newness that would go with it. Going the Greeks one better, the early Christians even extended that exclusion of creativity to poetry, as well as to all the rest of the arts.
For the Judeo-Christian culture, Ecclesiastes 1:9 (written around 250 B.C.) of the Old Testament expressed it well:
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
So for Christians, it was impossible for mankind to create anything new under the sun, even in poetry. Sorry about that one-upmanship, Greeks!
But a shift occurred in modern times, and in the Renaissance men developed a sense of their own independence, freedom, and creativity. The first to actually apply the word creativity was the Polish poet Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski, who applied it exclusively to poetry in the early 1600’s. But for over a century and a half, the idea of human creativity met with resistance, due to the fact that the term creation was reserved for creation from nothing.
The formal starting point for the scientific study of creativity is generally accepted to have been J. P. Guilford’s 1950 address to the American Psychological Association, which popularized the topic and focused attention on a scientific approach to conceptualizing creativity and measuring it.
Other pursuers of the concept of creativity have taken a more pragmatic approach, teaching practical creativity techniques. The three most well-known are:
- Alex Osborn’s brainstorming technique (1950s to present)
- Genrikh Altshuller’s (a Russian patent clerk) Theory of Inventive Problem Solving for scientific engineering (called TRIZ, 1950s to present)
- Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking techniques (1960s to present).
So not until 1950 was the concept of creativity fully accepted, as applied to man! It has been only 59 years!
Now if we can just get someone to thoroughly apply the concept of, What’s new to the reader, to the teaching of writing, we might make some real progress in writing pedagogy.
WHOA! You’re probably thinking, That’s a pretty strong statement. I’m not so sure about that.
Okay, then – let’s try a little mental experiment by applying the WHAT IF test to Rhetoric-
- WHAT IF an essay (or any other form of writing) has used every possible Rhetorical device and strategy possible, so that it is perfect as far as Rhetoric goes.
- Further, WHAT IF the audience has already heard or read the ideas, the specifics, and the presentation, before?
Wouldn’t you agree, then, given those conditions, that the essay (or whatever) will be a failure because it has nothing new to say to the reader?
Some how, I just knew you’d see it my way.