“Human creativity is the ultimate economic resource.” Is it really? “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation … What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.” Is this the first step? Does the United States do this better than anyone else? Who will respond to the rallying cry to live the creative life? Today, there are a growing number of people who work in “creative industries,” and even a number of people who identify as “creatives.” But what is a creative person?
Attempts to describe creative people often produce a baffling array of characteristics. Creative people are described variously as introverted and extroverted, smart and naïve, playful and disciplined, rebellious and conservative, open-ended and severely critical, and more. But as one blogger observes, “most of these [descriptions] seem to focus either on an idealized vision of an artist or the blog-writer’s idealized self-image!”
As with so many of the labels that we use to identify ourselves, the creative person is an invention. Even words like “creative,” “creator,” and “creativity” are of remarkably recent vintage. Our notion that certain individuals are creative has been shaped by significant developments in the way that modern people understand the human mind. The creative power of the human mind was made plausible by modeling it on the readily available Christian idea of the divine creator. As Edward Craig argues, this re-articulation of the human mind in terms of God’s actions relies heavily upon the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei as a kind of defense mechanism against the loss of the Medieval cosmos.
Other forces have also shaped the way that we think about creative people. One of the most significant has been the industrial revolution and rapid technological advances. In an influential speech that essentially jump-started American research into the psychology of creativity, J. P. Guilford suggests that, in the face of these changes, “Eventually about the only economic value of brains left would be in the creative thinking of which they are capable.” The fear of the machine and artificial intelligence continues to highlight creativity as one of the last bastions of humanity that must be nurtured and preserved lest we lose ourselves in a world of simulacra.
This anxiety works both ways. For some, the creative person is a sinister reservoir that could spill over into an otherwise ordered and civil society. In the eighteenth century, some likened creativity to a contagious force that can spread social and political chaos. The work of the artist, especially, was thought to be born of madness and also to breed madness. There is no doubt that human creativity can be distorted for evil ends. It has the power to unleash monsters, and when it does we, like Dr. Frankenstein, may spend the rest of our days chasing those monsters.
Not surprisingly, there have been many attempts to deconstruct the creative person. Christine Battersby, for example, suggests that the modern concept of creative genius is a male fantasy. Behind this concept, she says, lies a sort of freedom that, until very recently, only men have enjoyed in Western society. Others question how important the creative person is for this thing we call the “creative process.” Perhaps creative people are those who are in the right place at the right time, and they are subject to forces beyond their control.
There are many Christians adding their voices to the chorus that sings the possibilities of creativity. In the midst of our culture’s present optimism about the creative potential of humanity, we must pay careful attention to the ways in which we continue to invent the identity of the creative person. The creative person, like any identity that we construct for ourselves, can easily become an idol that we serve, a burden that sucks the life from us, or both. The only way to ensure that our identities as creative people do not, in the end, destroy us, is to allow them to be unmade and refashioned by the cross and resurrection of Jesus. In a post that will appear in April, I will offer some thoughts on what it means for the creative person to also say, “I have been crucified with Christ.”
 The Rise of the Creative Class, viii.
 President Barack Obama, quoted on http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/economy/innovation. Accessed March 23, 2014.
 The first recorded use of “creative” occurs in 1816. The word “creator” is first used to refer to human agency in 1579, and the first recorded use of “creativity” to refer to a human process occurs in 1875. See “creativity,” “creative,” and “creator” in The Oxford English Dictionary, Vol III, prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
 The Mind of God and the Works of Man (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987).
 “Creativity” The American Psychologist 5 (1950): 444-454.
 For interesting reading on the topic of enthusiasm and inspiration in eighteenth century writings on creativity, see Timothy Clark, The Theory of Inspiration (Manchester University Press, 2001) and William Keach, “Poetry, after 1740,” in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism: The Eighteenth Century, ed. H. B. Nesbit and Claude Rawson, 4 (Cambridge: University Press, 1997), 147 – 150.
 Gender and Genius (Indiana University Press, 1990).
 Ironically, recent interest in the way that creative people are shaped by forces beyond their control sometimes points back to the ancient Platonic theory of inspiration. This is seen most clearly in some forms of structuralism that make artists the unwitting subject of social and cultural forces. Amongst psychologists working on the important social dimensions of creativity, one could point to the work Teresa Amabile and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.