The Creative Spark

A cubist painting.

Still Life before an Open Window: Place Ravignan, oil on canvas by Juan Gris, 1915; in Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Image courtesy of the WebMuseum Web site.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2004



Cite This Course

Course Description

"Creative activity (isn't) the icing on the cake. Human creativity is the cake." (Jerry Hirschberg)

Creativity - "the mastery of information and skills in the service of dreams" (Hirschberg) - is much prized in the arts, science, business and the classroom. What does the creative process look like? Under what conditions does it flourish - what ignites the creative spark? Attempting to answer these questions, this class explores ways creativity has been understood in Western culture: what we prize and fear about creativity and its wellsprings; how writers, artists, scientists and inventors have described their own creative processes; how psychologists and philosophers have theorized it; ways in which creativity has been represented in Western culture, particularly in 20th century films; and creativity in everyday life, including our own lives. Readings include portions of psychologist Rollo May's The Courage To Create, and essays by Joan Didion, John Updike, Alice Walker, Oliver Sacks, and others. In addition, we'll watch video profiles of choreographer Paul Taylor, architect Maya Lin, and jazz musician Dave Brubeck. We'll keep journals in which we note our own observations and reflections on creative process. We will also watch a film together as a class one evening early in the term.

Karen Boiko. 21W.730-2 The Creative Spark, Fall 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

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