December 09, 2010

What is Creativity? Part 3: "Pandora and Her Jar"

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Nicholas Regnier, ca1626
“Allegory of Vanity- Pandora”
Public Domain

 Does anybody remember the story of Pandora and her box? The woman from Greek mythology to whom the Olympian gods give many gifts; one of which is a sensuous box for which she is under penalty to never open. Upon an ancient Broadway theater her story is weaved together with the likes of Prometheus and Epimetheus. They are two Titan brothers who are distinguished by antithetical characteristics. On that stage, Pandora is captured like a prey animal by curiosity, and unfastens the lid of that ill-famed box. All Things Bad inside are set free and our world thereafter suffers terribly. Pandora's story sounds a lot like that of another women from ancient times. The story of Eve. The Abrahamic traditions tell us that Eve lives in the garden of Eden with her husband Adam. Here, the Creator provides them with an abundant, unending, and delicious supply of fruit to eat. Yet they are warned, they may eat fruit from all of the trees in the garden except for one tree. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge, they are told, or they will surely die. That odd animal the serpent also habits the garden. Slyly, the serpent stimulates Eve's native sense of wonder for the non bestowed fruit, and the power of curiosity ripens within her. Having both eaten of it, Eve and her husband are exiled from paradise and thrown into the present epoch in which we all live; that of trial, tribulation, and death.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
John William Waterhouse, 1896
Public Domain

These stories are considered some of the most ancient stories from different cultures. Yet, even from ancient times the power of curiosity has clearly been understood, and for perhaps our own good written down in script. It was curiosity that caused me to initially ask the question, “What is Creativity”? I presumed it to be simply a little question for beginning my journal. Instead, it mushroomed quickly into a project like that of building a cathedral- taking an unexpected amount of time and leading me to a myriad of unforeseen places: creativity from a business perspective, creativity from a psychological perspective, creativity from a modern neuroscience perspective- a branch of biological science incorporating the fields of chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and physics. There is the issue of creativity as a giftedness with the nature vs. nurture discussion. There is the recent rise of what I call 'The Creatives', a new people group resulting from the advancement of the Internet and communications/media technology. Who knows how many more threads of this discourse we could follow? And to complete the circle, there is also creativity from the artistic point of view from which we began. “Whew”! So how on earth am I going to give this little question a fair shake? I think the answer to this question is simple....I cannot. I do think though, having gazed at the massiveness of the enigmatic query, I can give my journal a beginning place.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Ascribed to Ja'far al-Sadiq, ca 1550
“Adam and Eve”
From a copy of the Falnama (Book of Omens)
Safavid Dynasty, Tabriz or Qazvin, Iran
Public Domain

If the theme of Inside the Womb of Imagination is creativity, then it seems right to give some kind of structure to what creativity is. What is this thing that has a beginning, grows, and develops; finally bearing a legacy of handiwork, invention, product, or realization? Creativity, in my opinion, is essentially the heart of intelligence. It is the pump or motor that moves our world. It is the marrow that facilitates our brain...our hub of awareness, understanding, and emotion. It is our vitality. A life within its very own womb.

I view creativity within us as originating from two sources. The ancients seemed well versed in one. Creativity is the efflorescence of curiosity. Curiosity, that savvy prey creature of Pandora, and that big-eyed wonder which the serpent used to tempt Eve is from my viewpoint one source from which creativity springs. The ancients understood that curiosity did not always lead us down a commendable road. Therefore, the birth of something new does not necessarily need to be good to the whole, but at least successful for a few. While I will not identify incidents in history, I'm certain wherever we live in this world we can all think of many circumstances in the past when a new, even radical idea for greater opportunity was used for the benefit of only a few. And many others suffered. In an occurrence such as this, eventually imagination is born in others to rise up and stand against this black inspiration. Or, should we examine our natural environment for bad ideas we shall find ample lessons. One good illustration was the use of a synthetic pesticide called DDT. It was an innovation to improve the quality of our harvests by controlling pests that brought physical and financial ruin to our food crops. However, after an extended period of time we began to understand the devastation DDT was causing in our food chain. How many times have we done something believed to be innovative to our world, only to discover that this advancement has instead caused harm to our natural environment? Creativity, therefore, reveals in itself a paradox. Follow the scent curiosity leaves behind and we can find that same arrogant trouble that did not pity Pandora and Eve. And on the contrary, curiosity can also escort us to something brand new- a discovery fresh, not before known, experienced, disclosed, or perceived- and marches forward our presence here for good. Creativity can be the protagonist or antagonist in the play of our lives. “It is the pump or motor that moves our world”.

My Personal Illustration for “What is Creativity”?
Copyrighted ©2010-2011 N. Leonard All Rights Reserved
Pigma Micron Pen/GraphitePencil Drawing

Creativity inside us as a native quality of who we are is the second source of origin. I have been very struck by neurological studies that have demonstrated the creativity of our brain itself. When we are born, our brain provides 'common rooms' for certain functions. For example, speech, emotion, motor skills, and memory have the same rooms in everyones brain. When injury or surgery damages a particular common room the phenomenal plasticity of our brain may be revealed. This ability was once believed to be nonexistent. We now understand that sometimes the brain will reroute the damaged function by the creation of a new room and relocate it there. The function or skill is not lost. This native creativity within us and who we are as a life form- be it our very brain or our creative thought is an astounding demonstration of a wondrous Template. We are sculptures carved by the original Sculptor. We are the imagination of life's first Artist. Our intelligence is an impression of Intelligence. The growing knowledge of medicine we have is a gift from a gifted Physician. Our basic nature to build mirrors that of a master Engineer. We did not discover science but Science discovered us. Words that poetically issue forth flow from the Living Word spoken in us. Music that embraces and caresses our soul sings from the Song who sang us into being: “A voice had begun to sing...There were no words...But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise [they] had ever heard...One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand point of lights leaped out...The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time...if you had seen and heard would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing...All this time the Lion's song, and his stately prowl, to and fro, backward and forward was going on. And when he burst into a rapid series of lighter notes...primroses suddenly appearing in every direction. Thus, with an unspeakable thrill [they] felt quite certain that all the things were coming (as [they] said) 'out of the Lion's head'. When you listened to his song you heard the things he was making up: when you looked around you, you saw them.”(1) We are creative because we are designed to be.  “Creativity is the marrow of our brain...It is our vitality”.  It has a life of its very own.

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Source/Photographer Georges Jansoone, 2008
Marble relief on Cathedral; Orvieto, Italy
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported


The word creative was first used in the English language by Geoffry Chaucer. He was of England ca 1343 AD. Sometimes referred to as the father of English literature, he is most widely known for writing "The Canterbury Tales".

In ancient Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman and the Olympian gods graced her with many gifts. Her name in fact is derived from 'all' and 'gift', meaning 'all gifted' or 'all endowed'. While the myth is very ancient, it wasn't until the 7th century BC that Hesiod put it in literary form for the first time. The name Pandora is not used in his telling and it was understood from the ancients that the box was actually a jar (Gr: pithos; of Crete and Levant usage). It is believed the word was mistranslated into prixis (L). This error is often attributed to Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Pandora's story into Latin in the 16th century. The fateful 'box' has remained in use since.

In Abrahamic tradition, Eve was the name of the first woman. She was created by God from Adam- an interesting paradox- and lived with her husband in Paradise. Within their choice was the power to remain in Paradise or to become 'like God'- as tempted by the Serpent. They chose to eat the fruit of doom and mankind has been searching for Paradise with everlasting life ever since. The recounting of her story is found in the sacred writings of the Abrahamic faiths.
What Pandora's jar would have looked like.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Source/Photographer Jastrow, 2005
Description: Orientalizing pithos
Found in Crete, now sitting in the Mus'ee du Louvre, Paris
(Dpt. Of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities)
Public Domain

1. C.S. Lewis, “The Magician's Nephew”, HarperCollins Publisher, NY, NY, Full-Color Boxed Collector's Edition, ©2000, pp. 107-116. 
C. S. Lewis, “The Magician's Nephew”, First Edition Print ©1955.
* All copyrights, and trademarks in the characters, names, and titles of "The Chronicles of Narnia" are
owned by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

All other information used in the supplemental section came from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

This entry is preceded by:
What is Creativity?  Part 2  "Extra Credit"
What is Creativity?  Part 1  "Voices from Everyday Artists"


  1. Mary Magdalene is always portrayed with a jar. Perhaps her possible connections explored by Gnosticism are to Pandora?

  2. I found this a very interesting and enjoyable read.

    James Allen