Creative LeadershipCreativityMedia Production

Can We Be Creative Anymore?

With the vast amount of information stored online, I often wonder if we’re killing our creativity by taking the easier route of “mashing up” other people’s work.  Jaron Lanier, an early online creator thinks that “all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking over a garbage dump.”

Recently, I talked with a film professor at NYU who mentioned how surprised he was that film students today don’t fret over finding original shots and shooting styles as much as copy great shots from other films.  On a recent student film shoot, he lamented that the student had meticulously copied shots from films he admired, rather than spend the time finding the right shots for each scene of his script.

I also have a friend who’s built a website that does nothing but aggregate other links and stories, and yet he considers himself a “content creator.”  In the art world, take a look at the modern art in a typical museum today and notice how much is merely a pastiche or collage of “found items” rather than original work.

I know, I know. Yes, art based on “found items” can be original, and I know all the quotes about “talent imitates, but genius steals.”  But I can’t help but wonder that as lazy as we all are (I am chief of the lazy tribe) how much easier it is to link to, aggregate, or collage other people’s work than do the heavy lifting of real (and sometimes risky) original thinking.

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  1. I suppose we are all “content creators”, but it applies equally to the trash bin out back.

    A creative person can make us see something in a new way, whether with bold originality, or by rearranging existing objects. But what I want is something that makes me see myself in a new way. This is what elevates something to the level of “art”.

    It seems to me that what is missing from contemporary “assemblage” art is a unique, personal and courageous perspective: people who have experienced the world only through the media have only media content as their source of metaphor, and so, their work is sterile.

    Philip K. Dick wrote a book he entitled: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (it was made into the movie “Bladerunner”). The book is a cautionary tale of culture being over-run by technology. He wrote it in 1968.

    But here’s a question: Are the creators of Christian Media limiting their own world view? And as for the film students: the problem is that they are obessed with making a film: they should be obsessed with telling a story.


  2. This defines who VH1 is. “I love the 80’s/90’s-etc.” “Worst songs of 2009” “Best Youtube videos of all time” “One hit wonders of the 70’s”.

    Their entire model is built on this and yet people watch it. I personally can’t stand it. It just seems so cheap. I am wondering how people will look back on the 00’s years, as we have spent an entire decade reviving 80’s pop culture. Sentiment of our childhood and looking back with fondness is appropriate (juat as an omage to a famous director or DP is in a film), but I tend to agree that we are running out of original ideas (or at least the desire to try).

  3. “I am supposed to be the No. 1 creative genius in the whole world, and I don’t even know what the h*** the word ‘creativity’ means.” – David Ogilvy, 1991

    I think as believers we must begin by admitting that all creativity is derivative.  We are the creature, not the creator.  I believe that when we understand this, it changes the way we look at creativity and the process of production.  We obviously have been made in God’s image and He has endowed us with some of that “Creator” impulse in doing His work in the world and expressing our worship to Him, but we are not the font of these things.

    When I read the great Puritan writers, one of the things that strikes me is the sheer number of scripture references all throughout their works.  They obviously knew THE Book before writing THEIR books.  But that doesn’t lessen the impact of their books, it gives them authority and they begin to move the reader from knowledge to wisdom.

    Sometimes, I think the obsession with “creativity” can drive us to the brink as we struggle to find something new to say, in a new way…when what we might need to do is remind those we speak to of the wisdom of the past (returning to the Old Paths as Jeremiah says).

    So when we look at the issue at hand and the lack of originality today, I do think it is a problem, but not merely because of the laziness and derivative nature of it, but also the lack of authority and wisdom in it. 

  4. Creativity is out there, but often it is stifled by the very medium within which it exists.  Music, TV and Film are “hit-driven” media.  They are also expensive media.  Therefore to some who are in charge at the networks or studios, it makes more sense economically to duplicate previous successes, or imitate a competitor’s success, than to risk an investment in an original product.  They view another “C.S.I.” or “Law and Order” franchise as less of a risk financially than something new and original.  Another “Indiana Jones” or “Spider Man” is less of a gamble than a new and original movie idea.  The same holds true in the music industry, where the pressure is on artists to “stay with what works.”

    Media producers who can’t “franchise themselves” will often imitate a competitor’s success, in hopes of latching on to a winning formula.  When the Beatles ushered in the “British Invasion,” the record labels fell over themselves in their rush to sign ANY rock and roll band who was from England.  If NBC has success with “E.R.,” then CBS will try “Chicago Hope,” and ABC will go with “Grey’s Anatomy.”  How many daytime talk shows are there?  How many “judge” or “court” shows will the audience accept before it reaches the saturation point?

    I will probably take some flak for this, but my problem with the majority of religious programming is that they also attempt to copy media genres that have proven to be successful, only on a much smaller budget.  I see this as a “follow the money” situation in which the best and brightest will migrate to where they can receive conmensurate compensation for their talent.  I don’t think this situation will change until religous media comes up with a new business model.   And I don’t see this happening any time in the foreseeable future.







  5. Hollywood seems to be tossin creativity away with it’s sequels, remakes, prequels and origin movies. As if adding more money and effects to something done before will be a sucess. But then again what is creativity other than applying your own set of experiences, opinions, predispositions, and your own style and personality to what you have been exposed.  Sure there is a lot more information and shared knowledge that some people take the short route and copy rather than apply their intellect and personaility.


  6. Again ‘churchworld’ just doesn’t get it. When will a ministry understand the story of the talents and be willing to put their cheese in the breeze and be really-truly-madly-deeply engaging and creative.


    There is more murder, adventure, love and redemption in the greatest selling book of all time than any other work in history.


    The script has already been written and it sells itself.


    If grass roots and guerrilla micro-budget secular non-profits (and start-ups) can get it ~ why can’t the gatekeepers of the greatest story in history?


    Hop to it peoples.

  7. This week in my “Producing for the 21st Century” class here at Regent University’s School of Communication & the Arts, two theologians will join us to explore the notion of a THEOLOGY of CREATIVITY. On the surface, that sounds easy: of course, God CREATED, so should we. But when you throw in a dash of cultural-engagement-think, Regent film students are also confronted with the inanity of doing what the networks do – find what works and clone it under their own brand.

    Consider DaVinci. His creativity and genius often resulted from insatiable curiosity, a commitment to persistently experience and thus know (learn), his refined senses (especially sight), a willingness to embrace ambiguity, he balanced art and science, and so much more (Gelb, 1998).

    In reality, here’s a reductionist thought: If ALL of GOD is in CHRIST (any theological arguments there?), and the NT is replete with promises that ALL of CHRIST is in US, then why should created beings FILLED WITH THE PHYSICAL PRESENCE of the CREATOR, sit at the back of the creativity bus? Ever?


  8. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity…there is nothing new under the sun…”  I doubt that Ecclesiastes is the first place recording the hunger pains for originality or meaning or life.  But, even originality doesn’t guarantee any of that.  I have seen plenty of originally BAD work.  I’ve also seen mash-up so creative it breathed completely new meaning into the work that informed it.  The simple fact of the matter is, the deeper we move into the 21st century the more mash-up we’ll see, if for no other reason then that the archive of potential material continues to grow deeper and wider than ever before. Also, pilfering other artists work to “create” your own has existed forever.  I think it’s possible we are aware of it more now because democratized technology allows more people to display their “creativity”. 

    I’m not worried.  I think there is plenty of room in the world for pastiche and original work.  Only the passage of time will determine which works hold meaning and life.

  9. I know this may be a bit over simplistic but I think the more information the more we crowd out those original thoughts. We are so busy consuming information that we don’t take time to stop and ask “Why” or “How” anymore. 

    Creativity is a practice/discipline not a gift. 

  10. I know this may be a bit over simplistic but I think the more information the more we crowd out those original thoughts. We are so busy consuming information that we don’t take time to stop and ask “Why” or “How” anymore.


    Creativity is a practice/discipline not a gift.

    Maybe 1/2 Truth. (Or less.)

    Almost forgot ~ if churchworld 2.0 has to rely on the mashup vs. an original ~ rip off Ji Lee’s bubble project ~ next / first.


    Bumps to the 1st church or ministry that has what it takes to start an unmoderated forum board / chat room / im web presence to begin this dialogue.


  11. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Doug.  I’ve been telling my friends for years that today’s creative Christians produce little more than a Christian-version-of whatever the secular world is doing not realizing that, generally, secular people can sense the difference between the sacred and the profane even if they can’t specifically define it.  Thus, the burden of creating something that is truly Christianly is on us, and since we claim to worship the One-and-Only Savior, we need to lean completely on His unique shoulders and, under the inspiration of the Divine Muse, the Holy Spirit, create in ways that separate us from secular society.

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