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Criteria for Creativity

Judging quality in creative activities

At a meeting I was asked (by a non-musician) how I would judge the quality of a given set of original submissions, bearing in mind that they may entail different media, different levels of practical skill, different this that and the other. I had to come clean and say that the main thing was intuition. I said that I had developed some sort of criteria, but that they weren't terribly specific and that the first criteria for any creative course should be that submissions could follow all the criteria and achieve a very poor mark, and conversely that submissions could follow none of the criteria and receive a very good mark. This might be unusual but that it wasn't impossible. The reason was that criteria in the creative world are being constantly altered, made more or less valid, inserted, deleted by the practise of the art itself, that one cannot assume that because something breaks all the rules it is therefore bad. It probably will be, but possibly not.

Is this fair? Should not students have a reasonable indication of what is, or is not expected of them? And what about the originality point? What if the teacher is incapable of perceiving (and therefore 'correctly' assessing) a truly original and different piece of work?

Of course, all these points of view are true, depending on the circumstances. Students should be given a reasonable indication of what is expected of them, but at least a part of this is subjective - that is, the quality of something. What is quality in music? How can it be quantified? A piece of minimalist music like Reich's Piano Phase is seen by many as a good piece, and yet it is entirely different from most 'good' European art music pieces. It uses many different aesthetic criteria (non-dialectical/dialectical, invariant/contrasting, etc.).

The role of personal opinion (of student/teacher)

A lot, therefore, comes down to the role of personal opinion.

The role of the audience/academic judgement (how to balance the different opinions)


Importance of criteria - what are they and how should they be established - relevance of the 'first criterion'


The uncomfortable balance between expression and academic judgement


The purpose of music - to enjoy or to 'learn'?

Ultimately, what is the point of music? Is it to 'learn' - either about music or about oneself? Or is it to receive 'enjoyment' - whether visceral or intellectual? Does enjoying oneself in this way represent a form of 'learning'?

Inspiration and technique - how far can you get with either

Can you do much with only inspiration, but no technique? How about just technique? Is this a nature/nuture chicken/egg argument? What sort of techniques are there? Is someone with a performance ability, who can improvise well but canot notate, at a disadvantage compared to someone with good notation but no performance?

The role of method - how personal are these - can someone use someone else's method.


Is tonality a method? Is serialism a method? Serialism has a very distinct effect on the sound of the result - does this make the method better/worse/more or less effective?