The Danger of Praise and Reward as Fuel for Creativity

June 14, 2010

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This post is going to be centred around several sentences.

A few lines from the book Science, Order and Creativity.

The moment I read those lines, I really felt this was true. By analyzing it here in this post, I hope to emphasise the very important distinctions that I think are essential.

I will let the text intact and just pull it a bit apart and give it headlines. That way I hope the subtle differences become more clear.

No interference

“Thus creativity appears to be incompatible with external and internal rewards or punishments. The reason is clear. In order to do something for a reward, the whole order of the activity, and the energy required for it, are determined by arbitrary requirements that are extraneous to the creative activity itself.”

Passion needs to come from inside

“This activity then turns into something mechanical and repetitious, or else it mechanically seeks change for its own sake. The state of intense passion and vibrant tension that goes with creative perception then dies away.”

Danger of dependence from outside

“The whole thing becomes boring and uninteresting, so that the kind of energy needed for creative perception and action is lacking. As a result, even greater rewards, or punishments, are needed to keep the activity going.”

Adapting outside structures without understanding

“Basically, the setting of goals and patterns of behavior, which are imposed mechanically or externally, and without understanding, produces a rigid structure in consciousness that blocks the free play of thought and the free movement of awareness and attention that are necessary for creativity to act.”

Certain rules are important

“But this does not mean that rules and external orders are incompatible with creativity, or that a truly creative person must live in a arbitrary fashion.”

Some examples

“To write a sonnet or a fugue, to compose an abstract painting, or to discover some new theorem in mathematics requires that creativity should operate within the context of a particular artistic or mathematical form.”

“Cezanne’s particular creativity in art, for example, was directed toward the discovery of new forms and orders of composition within the context of a particular form of freedom that thad been previously established by the Impressionists.”

“Some of Bach’s greatest works are similarly created within the confines of strict counterpoint.”

Insight and understanding

“To live in a creative way requires extreme and sensitive perception of the orders and structures of relationship to individuals, society, and nature. In such cases, creativity may flower.”

No growth on external goals

“It is only when creativity is made subservient to external goals, which are implied by the seeking of rewards, that the whole activity begins to wither and denegrate.”

 

Fuel has to come from INDIVIDUAL insight and understanding

So creativity has an inherent order. That inherent order grows on insight and understanding. It has to develop and grow according to that. During that development it might need certain rules and boundaries to keep growing in a certain  direction. It might need ideas of others to grow even further….

BUT

…all that only after a certain independent growth on its own. Without interference from others. Without criticism. Without punishment. Without imposed rules.

Even, and maybe even most of all, without praise and rewards.

Because praise might be the biggest trap. Praise and rewards from others might be so addicting, that it becomes more important than creative growth. And as a result the fuel comes from outside instead of from the inside. With the risk that, one day, the fuel gets cut off.

Annemieke

The danger of praise and reward as fuel for creativity

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

John

“In order to do something for a reward, the whole order of the activity, and the energy required for it, are determined by arbitrary requirements that are extraneous to the creative activity itself.”

Or maybe it’s just the opposite? Maybe creativity and reward are inexorably linked? It’s almost as if he’s saying “there is no other reason for creativity than creativity itself” – which is a nice thought, but unfounded in reality.

Every creative act has a reason, a cause. And every cause has another cause behind it, ad infinitum. Maybe “reward” isn’t the best word, but behind every action there is a “reason” which probably isn’t far from a theory of “reward.”

“Basically, the setting of goals and patterns of behavior blocks the free play of thought and the free movement of awareness and attention that are necessary for creativity to act.” Really? In my experience, creativity is triggered by a Really Big Idea, or Really Large Goal that, to date, has not been achieved. Think of some a famous creative person — do they not have a goal or a purpose or a trademark pattern of expression? Of course they do. Anarchy alas might be the very antithesis of creativity.

““To live in a creative way requires extreme and sensitive perception of the orders and structures of relationship to individuals, society, and nature.” Hey, I found something to agree with in Bohm’s essay!

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Annemieke

I agree with you for a large part. But Bohm’s point was, as I understand it, that the creativity has to START independent from outside rules and demands. It needs a sensitive perception of orders and structures between people and nature, but it will never ‘see’ that if the main goal is reward instead of excitement.

That is a problem when the desire for approval from others is bigger than the desire for creativity. Which might not count for some, but certainly counts for others. I wrote a post about how I see that here: http://www.mindstructures.com/2010/06/inner-drive-or-navigation-from-outside/

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John

“That is a problem when the desire for approval from others is bigger than the desire for creativity.”

Not sure it matters all that much. Creativity, Jung suggested, was born in the shadow self, which can harbor any number of fragmented desires or layered delusions. This makes sense when we note how many exceptionally creative people are haunted with deep psychological issues.

I would offer that, in general, creativity stands apart from the kinds of issues that Bohm raises. Alas, creativity seems to occur in spite of these peripheral issues. On the other hand, I think we would both agree that true creativity is a deeply internal phenomenon, and not sourced outside of one’s own reference. If that’s what what Bohm is ultimately saying, I would agree.

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Annemieke

I am not sure what Bohm thought about Jung and the shadow, but personally I do think that it is very likely that creativity is seated in the shadow. And I also think that creativity occurs, no matter the peripheral issues.

But if the desire for belonging and approval is stronger (which might be normal at a very young age) or if people trust authority more than their own judgement, the creativity might not get a chance to develop in a healthy way. I indeed agree that true creativity is a deeply internal phenomenon and it is what Bohm is saying also.

He says that creativity has its own order, which grows on personal insight and understanding. And if others try to impose their own order (critisicsm, praise and all other good meaning advise) at an early stage of development, the order of the personal creativity gets disturbed.

I think the essence of exceptionally creative people is that their creative drive overrules any outside interference. Which might be a good thing for the first stages of development of creativity. But for them it might be harder to work or communicate with others in a later stage of creative development.

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John

“if others try to impose their own order (critisicsm, praise and all other good meaning advise) at an early stage of development, the order of the personal creativity gets disturbed.”

On a macro scale, this is fundamentally a political issue. China is an example of a country struggling to balance a Marxist core (forced uniformity, strong top-down control, marginalization of creatives, etc.) with an emerging population demanding new creative freedoms. But, again, this shows that reward (broadly defined) is essential to creativity, not an impediment.

Perhaps Bohm’s argument would be strengthened if he drew a distinction between applied creativity and pure creativity, the latter being very rare.

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Annemieke

I am not sure what Bohm exactly meant with creativity, if he meant applied or pure creativity. But as far as I could understand, he mainly meant the importance of each individual to have a connection with some universal field. It has to do with individual desire and personal experience. So maybe that what you call pure creativity. My guess is that he was not talking about applied creativity.

But my guess is also that this pure creativity can have many forms. Any deep desire combined with ‘seeing’ patterns in occurences. That means that this pure creativity can indeed be packed in a deep dense shadow. Even so that no one in his right mind would call it creativity …

Anyway just some guesses on my part.

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Max Millar

Consciousness itself, the very foundation of our self knowledge and self awareness and our own being, is fundamentally creative in and of itself.

That is why creativity, as we normally think of it, can arise from conscious sentient beings. The very creativity of consciousness itself, then quite naturally creates ‘forms’ or expressions in the world (such as art amongst many things).

What do we mean when we say consciousness is creative ? Actually, we can push it even further, consciousness is creativity itself..and pushing it further we see that the very foundation of all existence, the entire cosmos is creative/creativity…

It’s not a stretch then to say that if we look closely at the creativity and our own consciousness and the creativity in the cosmos, might they be partaking of the same general processes ? I think Bohm was hinting at this idea ?

In deep states of meditation we see the continual movement and play of consciousness gives rise to mental phenomena from a background of apparent ‘space’ or ‘a creative void/plenum’. It is both paradoxically ’empty’ yet ‘full’ (of potentiality).

So, this ‘space/plenum’ inside of us, bring into being and endless chain of things such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, body, sensations, imaginings, memories, dreams, reflections which then themselves can ultimately lead to ‘form’, action and expression in the world itself.

And it is in deep states of meditation, that we can experience what is actually a kind of trinity of creativity (i.e the creation,-maintenance-dissolution of phenomena) that is at play within our own consciousness and also the cosmos itself in a general sense.

It is the great unbroken chain of creative being that arises and radiates throughout the cosmos and our own consciousness and beyond.

And in this way we can say “the part contains the whole”. To experience this in the body-mind experientally, rather than conceptually, is something special..

Nice blog. Thank you for taking time to bring this into the world. I was looking everywhere for more writing on Bohm and Creativity and was delighted to find this !

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