Chapter 1: Introduction

Phillip McIntyre, Janet Fulton & Elizabeth Paton

In a review of recent creativity research, Beth Hennessey and Teresa Amabile from Harvard University argued that ‘only by using multiple lenses simultaneously, looking across levels, and thinking about creativity systematically, will we be able to unlock and use its secrets. What we need now are all encompassing systems theories of creativity designed to tie together and make sense of the diversity of perspectives found in the literature – from the innermost neurological level to the outermost cultural level’ (2010, p. 590). This chapter introduces these ideas in relation to the creative industries, including fiction and non-fiction writing, journalism, popular music, film and documentary, theatre, digital media, and the arts and design.


Chapter 2: General systems theory and creativity

Phillip McIntyre

General systems theory is an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates not just materials systems, such as machines and production lines, or biological systems, such as reproduction, but also other systems of organized complexity. In essence, general systems theory argues that one cannot fully understand complex entities by simply considering the individual parts. Following Sawyer’s argument that social systems ‘share many systemic properties with other complex systems, including the human mind’, a rational or scientific explanation of creativity must ‘include detailed accounts of both psychological and social mechanisms’ (2005, p. 368). This chapter outlines the principle concepts of general systems theory and the shift towards systems thinking that can be observed within the story of how particular ideas about creativity developed.

Chapter 3: The Systems Model of Creativity

Janet Fulton and Elizabeth Paton

The systems model of creativity developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a systems approach to creativity that suggests multiple elements must be present and active for creativity to occur. Csikszentmihalyi argues investigations of creativity with the individual as the central element do an injustice to the complexity of creativity and asserts that creativity is ‘the product of three main shaping forces’ (1988, p. 325). These include an existing culture, with traditions and conventions in place for an individual to refer to, the individual that produces a work, and a social group who judge and verify whether the work is creative. This chapter describes and analyses the systems model of creativity developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and provides context for the analyses in Part 2 of the book.


Chapter 4: Songwriting as a Creative System in Action

Phillip McIntyre

The contemporary Western popular music industry tends to work within a paradigm of creativity that runs counter to current academic research. This research into creativity can be categorized as falling along a continuum from individual to contextual responsibility and ranges across a number of disciplines including psychology, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, and communication and media studies. However, this chapter argues that the systems model of creativity in particular, partially coupled with the similarly complex approach to cultural production presented by Pierre Bourdieu, provides the most useful working platform to investigate the idea of creativity. This chapter outlines an investigation of the systems model of creativity as it applies to contemporary Western popular music songwriting through the use of an ethnographic research methodology.

Chapter 5: The Creative Development of Sampling Composers

Justin Morey

Using qualitative interview data, this chapter discusses the extent to which the systems model of creativity is helpful in explaining the development of creative practice amongst those dance music producers who use samples in their work (known as sampling composers), and how their creative processes can alter in response to the demands of both the field and domain. The interviewee responses discussed in this chapter reveal a dedicated practice regime of collecting, listening to, playing and making recordings, often from an early age, resulting in significant immersion in the domain of music production before producing work that may be validated by the field of the music industry and their peers.

Chapter 6: Scalability of the Creative System in the Recording Studio

Paul Thompson

Both Romantic and Inspirationist understandings of creativity that promote the image of a lone, introverted ‘genius’ or the inspired artist are often reflected in the ways music industry artists discuss their work and audiences imagine what happens during the making of a record. These notions are reinforced through media representations of artists in the recording studio. This chapter contributes to a growing body of research that reject such understandings, describing an ethnographic investigation of the production of a popular music recording undertaken by a group of musicians, an engineer and a record producer in a recording studio in Liverpool, UK using the systems model of creativity. It does so in conjunction with Pierre Bourdieu’s work on cultural production and Keith Sawyer’s work on group creativity.

Chapter 7: Print Journalism and the System of Creativity

Janet Fulton

This chapter answers the question: how do print journalists produce, or create, their work? Journalism is seldom thought of as a creative form of writing, primarily because it is not an ‘artistic’ profession and some see it as constrained by rules and conventions, or structures, giving little licence for a journalist to exercise agency. In other words, it is thought that the existence of these structures leaves little room for print journalists to make creative choice. However, by applying the systems model of creativity suggested by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to print journalism, as this chapter does, it can be clearly seen that journalism is a creative activity in the same way as such writing genres as poetry and fiction writing.

Chapter 8: The Practice of Freelance Print Journalism

Sarah Coffee

Using an innovative Practice Based Enquiry (PBE) approach to examining creativity as a system in operation, Coffee’s research included writing a series of 20 feature articles, based on creative practitioners and their experience of the creative process. By applying Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model framework to her own experience of writing feature articles and that of the 20 cultural producers interviewed for Profiling Creativity, the research presented in this chapter illustrates and validates the underlying systemic nature of creativity as it applies to all creative practice, and the necessity of accounting for the domain, field and individual components in explanations of the creative process.

Chapter 9: The Dynamic System of Fiction Writing

Elizabeth Paton

Based on ethnographic methods, including in-depth interviews with published Australian fiction writers and publishing industry professionals, the research presented in this chapter shows that the systems model is relevant to Australian fiction writing. Although the individual writers possess unique combinations of characteristics, biographies and processes, their collective responses demonstrate common participation in systemic processes of creativity. In sum, the research demonstrates that, rather than being solely the property of individual authors, creativity in Australian fiction writing results from individuals making choices and acting within the boundaries of specific social and cultural contexts.

Chapter 10: Reconceptualizing Creative Documentary Practices

Susan Kerrigan

This chapter outlines a revised systems model of creativity incorporating creative practice, developed out of self-reflective research that investigated the creative production of two documentary works. These revisions clearly identify how a practitioner becomes a ‘conditioned agent’ by internalizing a creative system that allows them to engage in creative practice. This chapter also aligns the systems approach as complementary to two other creativity theories: the Group Creativity Model (Paulus & Nijstad 2003) and staged creative process theories. Examples taken from Kerrigan’s research illustrate the complexity of creative documentary practice that is simultaneously about a practitioner drawing on their intuitive and embodied knowledge while also being engaged in a collaborative, social and cultural practice.

Chapter 11: Film and Media Production as a Screen Idea System

Eva Redvall

This chapter explains complex production processes in the film and media industries as working within a Screen Idea System, where variations emerge based on a constant interplay between the Talent (with a certain Training and Track Record) proposing new ideas; the existing Tastes, Traditions and Trends in specific production cultures; and the commissioners with a certain Mandate, certain ideas of Management and certain amounts of Money at their disposal. While nobody knows exactly what might work in terms of finding success in the film and media market, Csikszentmihalyi’s highly social and contextual creative model provides a means for studying the production of new variations and the way in which challenging concepts such as creativity, quality and value are discussed during this kind of creative work.

Chapter 12: Distributed Creativity and Theatre

Stacy DeZutter

DeZutter’s work on distributed creativity, which this chapter reviews, demonstrates that when individuals collaborate to produce a shared product, such as in theatre performance, the creative process does not reside in the cognition of individuals but rather is distributed across the members of the group, who form a cognitive system. Distributed creativity theory is informed by Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model and Keith Sawyer’s work on collaborative emergence and distributed cognition. This chapter reviews DeZutter’s research (conducted in collaboration with Sawyer) and suggests additional ways scholars might employ the theory of distributed creativity to better understand, and potentially enhance, group creative processes.

Chapter 13: Comedy, Creativity, Agency: The Hybrid Individual

Michael Meany

Theories of humor have tended to focus on product over process and on reception over construction. For the comedy producer creating a humorous text, these approaches at best form a set of heuristic rules that are tested when the text works on an audience. This chapter argues that creativity theory, in particular the systems model of creativity, provides a framework for examining the making of comedy. The systems model generates a process, which in turn, generates an output – the creative product. Described here is a Practitioner Based Enquiry project that employs artificial intelligence agents (chat-bots) as comedy performers. Creativity emerges in the interactions and relationships of human and non-human actors that affect both the creative process and the resulting product.

Chapter 14: The Arts and Design: From Romantic Doxa to Rational Systems of Creative Practice

Phillip McIntyre and Sarah Coffee

In this chapter, McIntyre and Coffee compare the views of practitioners in arts and design with recent systemic accounts of creativity. Through a series of semi-structured interviews with practitioners from visual arts, theatre, music, dance, writing, fashion, architecture and graphic design, McIntyre and Coffee demonstrate how these practitioners’ views confirm a systemic view of creativity, rather than a Romantic or inspirationist view. They conclude that while there is a traditional set of beliefs that generally form the doxa of these fields for many of these practitioners, most art and design practice could be best reconceptualised as systemic.

Chapter 15: Conclusion: Future Directions?

Phillip McIntyre, Janet Fulton and Elizabeth Paton

This chapter summarizes the research conducted using the systems model developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. From the evidence presented throughout the book it can be reasonably concluded that cultural production is a multidimensional phenomena and this model provides a much needed comprehensive view of the creative process. The chapter also concludes that further research in this area using the systems model needs to be carried out to continue testing the efficacy of the model in other areas such as web design, online journalism, photography, blogging and fine art. More work could include investigations of international and intercultural production and how these might operate at the rational level within a broad system of creative action, despite the specific cultural beliefs and myths about creativity found across cultures.


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