Art Not Creative

In our time, the word "creative" is most often applied to the arts. That’s a mistake. More creativity is to be found in engineering and science than in the arts.

This is evident if you define creativity as thinking of something new. Literature has been around for a long time as poetry, plays and histories. Telling a good story hasn’t changed much. Painting and sculpture have also been around a long time, and those techniques are pretty much the same as they always have been. The motion picture is merely a mechanical way of telling a story. Do you know anyone who has improved on the kind of work Michelangelo, Homer, Victor Hugo or William Shakespeare did?

On the other hand, think about the problem of flight. People wanted to fly for a long time, but our bodies are not built for it. It took Wilbur and Orville Wright’s applying their brains to the problem to come up with a creative solution that makes heavier-than-air flight possible.

Or take something simpler. The early automobiles had to be started with a hand crank. A tool was inserted at the front of the automobile, and someone had to turn the cylinders of the engine using muscle power to get the gasoline to ignite. A man named Charles Kettering, however, figured out a way to use electrical power to crank the engine. That’s creativity.

We are immersed in technical, engineering and scientific creativity, but we tend to take it for granted because there are no television shows like "Engineering Tonight," nor do these creative people hire publicists and go to red-carpet events of mutual back-scratching. In most cases, we don’t even know the names of the people who have created all of the products we use every day.

This, I believe, is a serious distortion of our society. Historically, nobody paid much attention to entertainers. It’s not that they weren’t appreciated, but in the past people recognized that entertainment was a minor amusement and contributed little, if anything, to human problem-solving and human progress. Shipbuilders and architects were viewed as much more important than actors.

Take James Watt, who was born in 1736 in Greenock, Strathclyde, Scotland. This man and his partner developed the improvements to the steam engine that made its use practical in industry. Watt was the man who figured out how to use fossil fuels to do work. It’s hard to think of a man who caused a greater change in the human condition. And if you want creativity, how about Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone, or Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph, the motion-picture camera and the electric light. That’s creativity.

We would be far better off if the media and the schools taught children about these kinds of creative people rather than singers and actors, all of whom will be justly forgotten in a few decades. Unfortunately, today most media organizations are owned by large corporate conglomerates — which also mass-produce entertainment, so that there is a whole lot of cross-promotion going on. In the end, however, entertainers produce nothing but temporary distraction.

How many of you know Richard Drew? I’ll bet nearly every one of us has some of his inventions in our home. He invented masking tape in 1925 and Scotch Cellulose Tape in 1930, and thus made a struggling company, 3M, into a giant.

A lot of kids can tell you about Vin Diesel, a bouncer turned actor, but how many have ever heard of Rudolph Diesel, who invented the engine in 1897 that today we call a diesel? John Browning was one of the greatest industrial designers of all time, and his weapons are still used by the military today.

Perhaps one day, if we ever restore independence to our news organizations, they will pay more attention to the Nobel Prizes than they do to the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and more children will aspire to greater things than 15 minutes of fame for nothing.

Tell me quick, who was the most famous movie actor in 1924? Who was the most popular singer in 1923? I don’t know either, and nobody cares. Entertainment is an ephemeral art and, like the taste of candy, soon disappears.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.