Last Saturday night I found myself walking off the elevator into a dark room on the 24th floor of Chicago’s John Hancock building. The only thing lit in front of me was a rectangular portion of the floor where two miniature, white water towers stood. For about ten minutes I watched with other barely visible onlookers as a slowly moving light altered our perception of the scene. Shadows shifted and a narrative unfolded, all determined by a changing light source. This exhibit was the installation work of Jan Tichy, now on display for the Richard Gray Gallery (above is a snapshot of another room with a similar light experience). I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, and I found myself grappling with a common reaction many of us have when experiencing modern art: Do I like this? Am I engaged by this? What makes this worthy of public acclaim? As other visitors–that night a rather exclusive group of museum directors and art collectors–later heaped praise and made occasionally inscrutable comments, I thought about the age-old question: When it comes to art, what distinguishes creativity?
Remember, creativity does have a clear and consensual (by researchers) definition: something that both is different and has value. As I explain in my talks and workshops, it’s not enough just to be unusual or strange. Being creative requires integrating two fundamentally different forces: one that opens to the never-quite-imagined-before (divergence) and one that narrows to what is appropriate for the challenge or what “works” (convergence).
What makes art so difficult to evaluate is that the convergence is much more dependent on your reaction. We are unlikely to agree that Tichy’s light installations “solves a problem” or “works,” as we may be able to for products or other solutions. The convergence piece for artistic creativity has to do with meaning: Does it evoke something meaningful for you? It could just be a feeling, a sense of pleasure, or an intuitive resonance. If you can derive some kind of meaning, then the art is indeed creative for you. The people next to you might not see or feel anything meaningful and therefore the same installation cannot be deemed creative. For them.
Particularly for art, but really for many creative endeavors or insights, the claim of creativityÂ depends on the interpreter. The eye of the beholder determines whether there is convergence and therefore whether the act or idea is creative.
Personally, I found Tichy’s work to satisfy my own creative lens. I particularly appreciated the story of the moving light–which though sometimes puzzling was evocative enough to stir meaning for me. Here’s more information about the exhibit in case you’re in Chicago and want to see whether it lights you:
Jan Tichy: Installations (October 9 â€“ November 24, 2009) consists of nine works made over the past three years and is the artistâ€™s largest solo show to date. Tichy works at the intersection of video, sculpture, architecture, and photography. Richard Gray Gallery Â· John Hancock Center Â· 875 N. Michigan Avenue Â· Chicago Â· IL Â· 60611.(312) 642.8877. Please contact gallery for specific hours.