Creative vs. Artistic

October 26, 2011

Earlier this month the Art Educators of New Jersey held their annual conference in New Brunswick, NJ.  This year, like last, I delivered a 50 minute presentation on Studio Thinking and discussed how the Habits of Mind identified in the framework help to cultivate creative thinking skills.

Later that day, as I discussed the same topic over dinner, the conversation veered into the direction of ‘Creative vs. Artistic’.  Since the distinction between Creative and Artistic is often conflated, I offered an experience from my own life to illustrate the difference between those two concepts.  It went something like this:

I was recently asked to judge a group show for an arts organization in my community.  The theme selected for this show was fairly traditional and there were many works in the show that possessed notable artistic merit.  However, there was a single piece, entitled ‘The Tree of My Life’ which demonstrated a degree of creative merit which set it apart from other works in the show.  The work was painstakingly rendered, which lent further power to what was already a rich conceptual accomplishment.  The power in this work was meticulous execution, coupled with a *novel* idea. Relative to the other works in the show, ‘The Tree of Life’ exemplified creativity.

Is that which is artistic also creative?  Ipso facto, just like that? Perhaps!  It is my opinion that any original art object is, by default, creative.  But I also believe that not all art objects are E-Q-U-A-L-L-Y creative.

When we seek to evaluate the creativity of an object it is necessary to consider it in comparison to other works; knowing the available alternatives provides necessary insight about the yardstick being used to measure the creativity quotient.

Likewise, when considering an idea or solution that is not artistic in nature, we are also wise to consider the many alternatives that might exist. Because, very often, with the sufficient investment of time and attention–that is, with deep engagement–solutions abound.  The finest examples of creativity I am able to name *not only* deliver a novel and effective solution, very often they also appear to be the solutions that are out-on-a-limb on the proverbial tree of life.

And, on the rare and marvelous occasion when a solution truly exemplifies creativity, that solution, regardless of  the domain, certainly qualifies as art.

© 2011 Kira Campo

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4 Responses to “Creative vs. Artistic”


  1. Excellent point! Thanks for your post, Kira.

  2. Kira Campo Says:

    Thank you, Keith, for the feedback. I’m very glad to know that you feel the relevance of the post is not limited to the visual arts!

  3. howard A. Cohen Says:

    I agree to a great extent with what you have to say, Kira. Let’s not forget, though, that art strengthens us and offers solace in the face of great pain and hardship-truths. It helps us to feel with all others in situations bieng adressed.

    Today I spent the time with a university student helping her teach her inner parent behave inclusively and not be threatned by her growing expertise, “forcing” him to be demeaning. If she suceeds in learning this, she’ll gain freedom from needing to please everybody. She’ll then be able to make mistakes without panic and enjoy finding out that what was missing and not using the mistakes to prove herself at fault and to make herself feel like an asshole. This wasn’t creative of me, it wasn’t even artistic. But it was necessary to allow these processi to take place. I’d much rather show her stuff in the music or with the flute, but first things first.

    Also, It’s not necessarily so, that we compare works for their creativity in order to appreciate them. It suffices, that they help us cope with reality; we compare them to reality; they become our reality-enzyme helping us to be real without succumbing reminding us of a transcendental aspect. Most of the time the creativity is looking one right smack in the face. Unfortunately we often use our energies not to see/hear these creative answers, look the other way and punish others for following what seems artistically sound to them.

    • Kira Campo Says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Howard. I am in full agreement that “it’s not necessarily so that we compare works for their creativity in order to appreciate them”. As you point out, art serves various roles in our lives. A work might resonate with an individual for any number of reasons. Limiting the appreciation of a work (basing appreciation solely on creative merit, for example) would be a HUGE disservice. Creativity is not the only quality of value; placing emphasis on that, to the exclusion of other elements, would be foolish, because it wouldn’t allow space for those other essential elements to be regarded. The example you gave with the student demonstrates that fact beautifully. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts!


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