European inventory of
societal values of culture


In a lay person’s definition, the notion of ‘creativity’ generally denotes the ability to bring into existence something new based on the use of imagination and skills other people do not have. In addition to producing or using original and unusual ideas, this ability is usually connected to problem-solving capabilities, i.e., the possibility to deal with unexpected or difficult situations by generating or recognising alternatives conducive to a successful resolution of a problem. Creativity is also often connected to the ability to produce artistic objects or forms.

Generally connected to creativity is also a number of personality characteristics such as high intelligence, unconventionality of thought, and developed intuition. They are held to enable creative people to understand instinctively, without recourse to conscious reasoning. Creative persons are also seen as independent and nonconformist and are thought to highly value their autonomy. They are perceived as curios and problem-seeking individuals, characterised by ‘thinking outside of the box’.

All these personality traits were studied by social scientists in the field of psychology. But what seems to account for the recent general perception of the social relevance of the notion is the last one mentioned above. Although related to all other traits associated with creativity, so-called ‘divergent’ or ‘lateral’ thinking is thought to enable technological and economic innovations with important (positive) social consequences.

Namely, while originality and the ‘creative destruction’ it causes can initially be socially disruptive, its products are taken to enable the creation of new economic value that will eventually translate into positive outcomes for the whole society. Flexibility, ‘fluency’ (i.e., the ability to rapidly think of many ideas), and ‘flow’ (defined by Csikszentmihalyi as the timeless and total involvement of individuals in the activity with which they are engaged) are therefore highly valued in postindustrial, increasingly digitalised economies and societies.

In business terms, the American psychologists Sternberg and Lubart (1995) likened the combined traits of autonomy and problem solving, both typical of creativity, to buying low and selling high in the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ In the postindustrial context, such ‘marketplace of ideas’ has acquired new relevance, which obviously includes the ‘creative industries’ and ‘creative economy’, seen as the branches of the economy whose products are based on or closely related to different cultural activities.

Ever since the 1997 launching of the New Labour government’s ‘creative industries’ agenda in the UK, followed by the seminal publications on the ‘creative cities’ (Landry, 2000; Florida, 2002), and European Commission’s focus on the ‘economy of culture’ (KEA, 2006), the prevalent approach to culture-based development has been based on the idea that individual creativity, put into contact with advanced digital technology, would result in economic outcomes that would in turn lead to much desired ‘social cohesion’.

In terms of cultural policy practice, this often resulted in the expectation that individual talent brought together in ‘technology hubs’ or ‘creative quarters’ would spontaneously produce social results in addition to the business and ‘creative’ ones. 

However, since such minimalist solutions have generally failed to produce the desired results, some of its aspects were reformulated. Already in KEA’s 2009 report for the European Commission on the Impact of Culture on Creativity the concept of ‘culture-based creativity’ was proposed. In the report, it was argued this type of creativity was stemming not only from individuality but from art and cultural productions and other activities which nurture innovation.

Although it was defined as ‘going beyond artistic achievements or “creative content” feeding broadband networks, computers and consumer electronic equipment’, and operating with features such as ‘affect’, ‘spontaneity’, ‘intuition’, ‘memories’, ‘imagination’, and ‘aesthetic’, the report nevertheless approached ‘culture-based creativity’ from a rather utilitarian perspective, emphasising its role in technological and social innovation. Likewise, despite invoking a wider set of activities nourishing creativity, the concept rather narrowly defines culture in terms of artistic endeavour.

A new, social definition of ‘culture-based creativity’, as well as the multisectoral policy programmes that would do it justice, are still being developed. The explicitly social focus of the New European Agenda for Culture (2018), putting an accent on cultural diversity and the well-being of citizens, can be seen as a step in that direction.

Namely, although work programmes based on the New Agenda retain some of the rhetoric and solutions of the previously dominant conception of creativity, the general drift of the document can be interpreted as moving towards the systems view of the creative process, which emphasises the social validation that occurs if work is supported and understands the creative individual to be in constant interaction with their sociocultural environment. 

Such an approach to creativity obviously requires a considerable investment in education, training, apprenticeship, and practice. Interdisciplinary learning across educational fields is also compatible with this approach, but culture and cultural policies have no small role to play in the process. Cultural focus is also consistent with some noted examples of a paradigm shift away from technology-driven toward more human-centred approaches to creativity. (MP)


See also:  Creative industries; Creative class; Creative cities; Creative self and creative labour; Cultural work and precarity