Agata Kubiak

Creativity – a problematic definition

When thinking about the definition of creativity, we can either analyse it from the point of view of the process itself or structures it follows. The process has been thoroughly looked into by Christopher Small in ‘Musicking’ (Small 1998), when the audience, venue staff, passers by etc are included in the process. Another example of heavy focus on the same matter can be associated with Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, in which he claims that the social only exists in as much as it is performed (Latour 1999). Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model (Csikszentmihalyi 1996) on the other hand, focuses mainly on the structures surrounding and enabling the phenomena of creativity. I have consciously avoided using an established definition from the start, as it became clear to me that doing so could reduce the richness and subjectivity of my participants’ responses. One of my particular interests was trying to establish a ‘working definition’ of creativity; one based solely on gathered data. My data included nineteen interviews with professional string players (who consider themselves new music specialists), nine interviews with composers and an online survey with one hundred and ten participants, all of whom were professional string players. Interviews were conducted first, the responses were analysed and extracted thematic material was used to design the survey. The interviews were semi-structured and involved very established performers such as Neil Heyde, Rivka Golani,Lawrence Stomberg, Modulus String Quartet. Interview questions were designed to gain an insight into the self-perceived aspects of the phenomenon of performative creativity. Participants were asked to formulate a subjective definition, talk about triggers and mental as well as physical circumstances under which they feel most ‘creative’. None of the participants felt able to summarise the phenomenon of creativity in one sentence. They all (performers as well as composers) had trouble clarifying what it meant for them to be creative. Some reverted to humor, some refused to use the term ‘creativity’ altogether and some provided an ‘anti-definition’. Survey participants did not find the word ‘invention’ a very accurate description of ‘creativity’. Words like expression, individuality, experiment and collaboration scored much higher. Six performers who were interviewed twice, gave a different creativity definition depending on circumstances (rehearsal vs performance) and as many as twenty six percent of survey participants who expressed that creativity is important in classical music performance do not see themselves as a creative performer. This paper analyses all responses in detail, uncovering fascinating aspects of subjective views of the phenomenon.


University of West London, UK

Born in Poland, Agata started her music education at the age of 6. After graduating from Stanislaw Moniuszko Music College, she moved to London and continued her studies with a world famous professor Stephane Tran-Ngoc. Agata completed her BMus at London College of Music with a First Class Honours in 2011. Since graduating she has toured Europe and Asia with Avizo String Quartet, I Maestri Orchestra, Symphonic Orchestra of India. She then returned to LCM to continue her studies at a postgraduate level and graduated with a distinction in 2014. Agata is currently a PhD candidate researching creativity and new music in classically trained string players. She plays 2nd violin in Konvalia String Quartet with which she performs new music regularly. She is also a jazz singer, she writes and performs with her own jazz group. She was a finalist in the Riga Jazz Stage international jazz competition and got included in top 20 female jazz singers by the european jazz magazine Jazz Forum.