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Creativity and the Museum

Here’s what that Pittsburgh sage, Mister Rogers, had to say about creativity:

“There would be no art and there would be no science if human beings had no desire to create. And if we had everything we ever needed or wanted, we would have no reason for creating anything. So, at the root of all art and science there exists a gap—a gap between what the world is like and what the human creator wishes and hopes for it to be like. Our unique way of bridging that gap in each of our lives seems to me to be the essence of the reason for human creativity.”1 

If we want to fill that gap and progress as a community and a nation, we need to promote creativity. Art museums are great places to learn to be creative because, like nothing else, art makes creativity visible and accessible. And creativity, at its best, is truly thrilling. It’s thrilling to see it in other people’s work—and thrilling to experience for yourself. Creativity lifts us out of the concerns of daily life into a realm that is elevating and exciting, and it is essential to all serious human endeavor.

As I write this, the exhibition Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium is drawing to a close. As one of the co-curators of the show, this is a bittersweet moment for me. In my role as museum director, I don’t often get to curate exhibitions, which is a special kind of creative experience. A curator burrows down deep into the life and thought of an artist, considering how his or her ideas and life reflect the times in which he or she lived. Eventually, the knowledge that you accumulate coalesces into a strategy for telling the artist’s story in three dimensions over time.

A child explores an art installation in CMOA's Hall of Sculpture
A young visitor explores Eden in CMOA's Hall of Sculpture. (Bryan Conley/Carnegie Museum of Art)

It is a wonderfully rewarding process, made more significant in this case by the fact that, for Oiticica, nothing was more important than the creative experience. His goal was to share it with the viewer, who he came to call “the participator.” The largest environment he made, Eden, which was situated in CMOA’s Hall of Sculpture, is predicated on his notion of “creleisure,” the idea that creativity requires leisure time. (Did you ever notice how your best ideas come in the shower, when your mind is free and you’re relaxed?) So Eden comprises a series of pavilions of different shapes and sizes containing different sensual experiences. You can lie in a tent and listen to the music of the great Brazilian musicians, Oiticica’s friends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil; lie in leaves; walk through water and sand; or sit in a cubicle filled with pieces of soft foam rubber and read pulp fiction and magazines. All of this is to elicit ideas worthy of action.

Oiticica was a remarkable and singular artist, yet his values and concerns were those of artists all over the West during the 1960s and ’70s. For many of the most influential figures of the time, process was more important than product. They cared more about the experience of making something than the end result—the physical artwork—because they wanted to share with their viewers, as directly as possible, the exhilarating moment of creation. Museums make the experience of creating available to visitors by helping them see it in the finished work of art. That is, arguably, our most valuable contribution.

If you missed Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium at CMOA, you might be able to catch it at the Art Institute of Chicago (February 19–May 7, 2017) or the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (July 14–October 1, 2017). I hope you can see it.

Inside the Museum is Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky’s blog about the local and global impacts of the museum and the art world.


Endnotes

  1. Fred Rogers, You Are Special (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 48.