Neuroscience and Biobehavioral : Arts Bias and Creativity

By Rocavert, Carla

‘Arts bias’ refers to the tendency to think of creativity in terms of aesthetic forms such as painting, music, poetry and theater. While art-centric views were dominant up until the early 20th century, understandings of creativity have since expanded to include activities as diverse as home crafts, warfare, manufacturing, management, advertising and technology, among many others. Current debates over arts bias are symptomatic of the ambiguities surrounding evolving definitions of creativity. Significantly, many of the newer ‘arts’ of creativity differ from conventional understandings of aesthetic creation in a key way: they bring to modern definitions of creativity (see “originality and effectiveness” in Runco and Jaeger, 2012, p. 92) a distinctly utilitarian aspect. 
Technology, especially data-driven, information storing and social connection systems, have emerged as the defining example of 21st-century creativity. Art is frequently perceived as inherently lacking in usefulness. In a discussion of the “outstanding permanence of art”, Hannah Arendt noted that the proper intercourse with a work is not “using” it. As art is “removed from the wants and exigencies of daily life”, she argued that the intense worldliness and consistency of art serve as a lasting symbol of the stability of human artifice; as something “immortal achieved by human hands” (p. 167–168). Notions of immortality and permanence are closely tied up with longheld ideals that artists possess special, imaginative powers, such as the divine inspiration afforded to poets as described by Plato, for example. These conceptions of elite skill (typified by classical, Romantic and early 20th-century artists such as Mozart, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Picasso), are precisely the kind of ideas which some current researchers view as “damaging”, “incorrect”, “flawed”, potentially ‘harmful’, (Patston et al., 2018, p. 367) and ’dangerous’ (Cropley, 2014, p. 368). In their view, bias toward artistic disciplines risks obstructing more diverse and productive understandings of creativity. This is especially so given that “the global economy is shifting to a new paradigm”, and the world of work now requires students to prepare for having many careers and developing high levels of creative intelligence to avoid losing work to automation (Patston et al.’s p. 367). Yet as authors such as Oli Mould assert, in 21st-century media and government discourses there has been a strong focus on, indeed, a bias toward, forms of creativity that drive neoliberal capitalism, such as technology, design, advertising and finance (2018). The 2015 United Nations Creative Economy Report for example showed that already in 2012 new media and design made up 69% of all recorded creative output globally, while the performing arts made up only 1% (p. 2). Mould argues that conceptions of ‘the creative industries’, ‘the creative class’ and ‘creative cities’ (coined by Richard Florida and adopted by OECD governments since the turn of the century) have helped to shape neoliberal policy and discourse. The tension between acts of creation which are useful and acts which only illuminate something about the human condition (especially experience and emotion) is the central issue which will be explored in this entry. It will be argued that non-human, machine-led creativity in art-making and other domains also raises questions about bias. Computational artmaking challenges long-held presumptions that creativity is anchored in, and must emerge from, human feeling and being in the world.

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