Week 2: Night, Light, and History with Dr. Glenn Spoors

The historical development of ideas associated with creativity is essential to understanding the importance and use of creativity in past artistic and professional practice (Spoors, 2014). By exploring this notion, the definition of creativity has evidently changed over time, making its current meaning dependent upon which traditions one is drawing from. As Dr. Glenn Spoors explained in this week’s lecture, each historical perception and use of creativity is heavily influenced by the social and cultural factors of its time. For example, the use of creativity in ancient civilisations often required conformance to strict rules and order, while various “modernisms” such as surrealism and cubism were radical in trying to redefine the role of art. As demonstrated by Spoors, these key historical shifts in the history of creativity can be clearly reflected in the artistic products belonging to a specific era (see Fig 2.1).

(From left to right): Tablet (2100BCE – 1800BCE) from Tomb of Akhenaten, The Ascension (1100AD - 1200AD) from the Sacramentary of the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, Girl before a Mirror (1932) by Pablo Picasso

Fig 2.1 (From left to right): Tablet (2100BCE – 1800BCE) from Tomb of Akhenaten, The Ascension (1100AD – 1200AD) from the Sacramentary of the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, Girl before a Mirror (1932) by Pablo Picasso

From a personal perspective, the gradual transition from creativity being recognized as something externally derived to something wholly intrinsic was a key historical shift that particularly stood out. By examining the medieval perception that one’s own creativity was providence or the devil’s work, we can observe how the definition of creativity changes to suit the historical circumstances that it belongs to (Spoors, 2014). This concept can also be applied to our post-industrial age that characterises creativity as a safeguard against uncertainty and economic turmoil as well as a new commodity of cultural capital (Batey, 2011). As stated in the Ernst & Young 2010 Connecting Innovation to Profit report, “the ability to manage, organise, cultivate and nurture creativity is directly linked to growth and achievement” (Jensen, 2011). From a wider perspective, this statement can be applied to early human survival as well as a company’s growth in the modern world. For example, by examining ancient statues of the female body such as the Venus of Willendorf, prehistoric peoples arguably used creativity to express biological cues important to our species survival (Spoors, 2014).

In a modern sense, it’s not impossible to recognise some of the earlier ideas about creativity in particular artists or movements. Factors from the classical imagination such as repetition or conformance to a particular system of rules are evident in the creativity of comic artists. Despite a variety of styles and genres, both comic books and graphic novels continue to follow a strict layout of sequential panels that represent individual scenes (see Fig. 2.2). As stated by Steven Lafler of the National Association of Comics Art Educators (NACAE), “more colleges and universities are beginning to offer degrees in comic book art, better known as sequential art, such as the School of Visual Arts in New York City” (2004). In turn the imagination of comic artists are placed under a system of rule that perhaps dictates how a graphic novel or comic book should look. From a historical perspective, we can draw comparisons between this and the strict guidelines that oversaw artistic practices in Ancient Egypt. Who knows, perhaps the repeated form of comics in the distant future will resemble Ancient Egypt’s singular representation of the human body?

Fig. 2.3: From 1944 to 2014, comic layouts continue to favour sequential panels that represent individual scenes

Fig. 2.2: From 1944 to 2014, comic layouts continue to favour sequential panels that represent individual scenes

Expanding upon key historical shifts in the history of creativity, this week’s reading took a particular interest in the dark ages of imagination. Titled “Cock’s Crow” by A. R. Ekirch, the reading discussed the impact of artificial lighting on human productivity, creativity, and imagination. From economic growth to lifestyle changes, Ekirch explores the impacts of a lost darkness by somewhat posing the question: has artificial lightning enhanced or hindered our creativity? From a personal perspective, it wasn’t uncommon to find myself favouring the latter opinion. While the introduction of artificial lighting has provided longer working hours, faster development, and safer environments, it has also harmed our sleeping patterns, removed entire constellations from sight, and diminished opportunities for privacy, intimacy and self-reflection. In turn the wondrous and mysterious corners of our world have been illuminated, eliminating fireside tales and obscuring the star filled skies. Despite this how many of us still wish to escape the city lights? Increasingly we are travelling to the last frontiers of darkness for a chance to sleep beneath the stars. Perhaps without the intrusion of artificial lighting we can access a heightened sense of creativity? In contrast there is still a strong sense of indifference and fear towards the night than we may like to admit. From a creative perspective, this social attitude can be observed in the anthropomorphic characters of Pixar Animation Studio’s short film “Night & Day” (see Fig. 2.4). While the character of Day is presented as proud and content, Night is arguably introduced as jealous, aggressive and perhaps subordinate to Day. More importantly the artificial light that exists within Night is perhaps imperative to our identification with night in 2014.

Whether we praise or condemn its contribution to creativity, the fact remains: artificial lighting is here to stay. In the face of its increasing presence, there has never been a greater need to uphold sleep, safeguard dreams, and perhaps preserve the final frontiers of darkness. How many creative inspirations do we risk to lose in a world that increasingly shuns such vital and precious elements of our humanity?



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4 Responses to Week 2: Night, Light, and History with Dr. Glenn Spoors

  1. jonpettas says:

    Kind of set the bar there. A really amazing post. It’s interesting to find the contradiction though that we wouldn’t have art forms like film, animation and photography without the existence of artificial light. The new age art today cannot truly re-imagine the art from the age before the light bulb. A double edged sword you could say. With technological advance comes a loss we never truly realized.

    I can’t find the link right now but a TED talk a few years back relating to something along lines of “My Year Without Internet” expresses a similar loss in which case the presenter expresses how more meaningful his conversations had become without the internet intervening with his train of thought all the time. The importance of verbal communication has become under-appreciated just as natural lighting with it being lost in the modern world of emails and text messages. Check it out – definitely worth a watch if you wish to explore the notion on a separate plain.


  2. sophiacasale says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog, it was well written and housed great examples to support the chosen topic. You have really set the standards high.


  3. Talhy says:

    A fantastic first entry Scott! You write really well and include relevant and interesting content which you link convincingly to the weekly topic. The sense of place in relation to historical shifts could be more specific, and take care not to generalise artificial light as a global phenomenon. This was an enjoyable read. Really well done!


  4. Talhy says:

    The animation was a creative take on day vs night.


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