Ruth Richards was thrilled to discover she had won the prestigious Arnheim Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Psychological Association – but she was less excited for herself than for her field.
This award, and the fact that it specifically cites her as one of the pre-eminent scholars in the study of creativity, is a major recognition of the field she’s devoted much of her scholarly life to.
“Everyday creativity may seem obvious, even a necessity for any of us to survive in this crazy world,” says Richards, a member of the psychology faculty at Saybrook. “But not everyone gets it yet. Clearly (the APA) committee did, and this award helps make our work much more mainstream.”
The study of creativity, Richards points out, goes back to the founders of humanistic psychology: both Abraham Maslow and Rollo May wrote a great deal about it. Her contribution has been to take the creative out of the realm of the artistic, and instead show how it operates in daily life.
“This everyday creativity is not just about a hobby for a rainy day or Sunday afternoon. (Nor is it just about arts, a common stereotype, or just for famous people.)” she says. “It is about all of us, and all we do; it’s about qualities, and a way of being, that can affect all of life— our lives both individually and together. There are domain-specific aspects of creativity (like perfect pitch) but these are “core characteristics” than can cross fields.”
And, she adds, that for people who want it, “everyday creativity can open a spiritual path, can be transforming, can affect all of life.”
Most recently, Richards has been working on the connection between empathy and creativity. Creativity studies, however, is still a relatively young field, and Richards says that there are still many areas left to be explored and better understood.
“We don’t see enough focus, for example, in creativity studies, on caring for each other,” she says. “Or on collaborating! Vital to a better and more peaceful world. Or, for that matter, a more peaceful home. There’s androgyny, which is really about going beyond stereotypes (and discrimination) of any type, while being all we can be, not boxed in by expectations. Creative people do this—they can be assertive and dominant, sensitive and intuitive.”
So much research to do. “It’s time to start!” Richards says, taking up her decades long effort and pointing it squarely at the future.