Progressive Theory of Creativity


In contrast to Robert Sternberg’s idea that creativity is largely a choice, Dr. Leslie Wilson (2007), suggests that higher level creative thinking may be unattainable for some people.

Wilson outlines five progressive levels of creative ability. She suggests that the first three levels can be reached by anyone who has enough determination and motivation to reach them. The first three levels can also be attained with proper training and education. The fourth and fifth levels, however, may be reserved for those who are naturally gifted with creative talents. The five levels of creativity from Wilson are as follows:

  1. Primitive and intuitive expression: This first level of creativity incorporates the primitive and intuitive expression found in children and in adults who have not been trained in art. There is an innocent quality to primitive art, but also directness and sensitivity. The naive artist creates for the joy of expression.
  2. Academic and technical level: The second level of creativity is the academic and technical level. At this level the artist learns skills and techniques, developing a proficiency that allows creative expression in myriad ways. The academic artist adds power to expression through the mastery of craft.
  3. Inventive level: Many artists experiment with their craft, exploring different ways of using familiar tools and mediums. This heralds the level of invention. Breaking rules is the order of the day, challenging the boundaries of academic tradition, becoming increasingly adventurous and experimental. Inventors use academic tradition and skills as a stepping-stone into new frontiers.
  4. Innovative level: At the level of innovation the artist, writer, musician, inventor, thinker is more original. Materials and methods that are out of the ordinary are introduced. Now the creator breaks the boundaries. The academic or inspirational foundation remains as a substructure of unconscious thought guiding these creative efforts.
  5. Genius level: The fifth level of creativity is characterized as genius. There are individuals whose ideas and accomplishments in art and science defy explanation. Genius is arguably the one level that is unexplainable and perhaps unattainable for most of us, something that an individual is born with.

While Wilson’s opinions do contrast Sternberg’s, there are some similarities. I believe that the investment theory can be found in the five levels of creativity—especially in the first three. The first three steps show that with the proper investment in practice and formal education, anyone can be creative and create something original to them (meeting the generally accepted definition of creativity). I also see the investment theory in levels four and five. I believe that some people, even though they may exhibit some degree of creative genius, still need to be shown how to direct it. Levels four and five can be present, but still may need the academic substructure and personal motivation to realize them and bring them out in valuable, creative endeavours.

In my classroom, I think that it is important to see each student as an individual and try to identify their current level of creative ability and build upon and grow it from there. I admit, though, that it is very difficult to determine where each student is creatively. With this is mind, we can begin to understand what a creative person looks like by looking at the personality characteristics they display. If we see several of these characteristics, we may have a good foundation to categorize them as being more creative. If we see fewer of these “creative characteristics” we may categorize that student as less creative and in need of more attention and creative training.

As we look at our students, and ourselves, as individuals, it is also important to realize that creative people display certain, often unique, personality characteristics.