Chronicles of creativity: from Egypt to Middle Ages (1/3)

This text is part of a 3-piece series I am doing on historic concepts of creativity and it’s etymology. Much of what we believe today is a result from such previous thoughts, and I find it interesting to see how they merged and changed until reaching more contemporary conceptions (and misconceptions). The views I’ll present here in no shape or form neglects the plurality of concepts that exists or existed, but how schools of thinkers thought about creation given their socio-historical period. As I like to say, all is up for interpretation and many insights may arise from us discussing about how we came to and what contributed to contemporary concept of creativity.

Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

Creative tradition

Humans create since always. Aboriginal communities represented their lives in paintings on walls, developed communities, refined agriculture and made several other primal innovations. This all dating from ten-thousands of years ago. But the concept of creativity is a little trickier to trace back. Though Egyptians, Mayans, Chinese, and Indians created intensively, most of their conceptual developments has had some difficulty for reaching modern occidental society. This may be due to the destruction of their legacy and culture, different writing mechanisms, or predominance of Greco-Roman traditions (and erasure of the Egyptian roots).

Uncontrollable inspiration

Much of the Egyptian view ended up mixed inAncient Greek’s imaginary, and reflected on their written and more available works. The notion of “create” in this era was similar to “make”, and the two concepts would only diverge latter on. Though there were gods of creation in Ancient Egypt, it is hard to say if, in their concept, human creations were anyhow affected by gods’ will. And that is the main difference to what Greeks thought.

Human and divine

In Middle Ages, creativity got closer and closer to the divine. Medieval view was much closer to Plato’s concept, except for the profanity of polytheism. Well… instead of several gods responsible for different parts of creation, there was one and only one god to embrace all. Philosophers in Europe saw creativity as a result of god’s will, and human stood (again) as only a tool for his work. This lack of change throughout roughly a thousand yeas may be explained by knowledge being secluded in monasteries. Written in books in Latin. In a society that mostly did not speak Latin. Well… most of them could not even read. It was hard to question something then.

Neither here, nor there

We can see that creativity was (and still is) a very debatable concept. It goes back and forth, from “it’s human nature”, to “it’s god’s will” since ancient times. And this still goes on today. It is interesting to notice that the Egyptian concept in which creativity comes from previous creations is still actively present nowadays. We always use previous references to create, based on our experiences, knowledge and other references. Even when we want to detach ourselves and go out-of-the-box, this is only possible because there is a box in the first place. Creating from thin air seems a little “godly” and odd for such a rational society as ours.

I work as an interdisciplinary Service/UX designer & manager specialized in service management for data-driven business and digital transformation.