On Creativity

By David Bohm

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The original meaning of the word “art” is “to fit.” This meaning survives in articulate, article, artisan, artifact, and so on. Of course in modern time the word “art” has come to mean mainly “to fit, in an aesthetic, emotional sense.” However, the other words listed above show that art can also call attention to fitting in a functional sense. The fact that we are hardly aware of the syllable “art” in words such as articulate or artifact is an indication of an implicit but very deeply penetrating fragmentation in our thought between the aesthetic, emotional aspects of life and its practical functional aspects.

In this art of life as a whole we have to be both creative artists and skilled artisans. We are thus always in the act of fitting an ever-changing reality so that there is no fixed or final goal to be attained. Rather, at each moment the end and the means are both to be described as the action of making every aspect fit.

This notion of fitting extends into all aspects of life, including even those that have been called “moral” or “ethical” and which have to do with “the good”. The word “good” is indeed derived from an Anglo-Saxon root (the same as that of “gather” and “together”) which means “to join.” And so it may be suggested that early notions of “the good” implied some kind of “fitting together” in all that man does.

The fact that the Latin word “bene,” meaning good, and the word “bellus,” meaning “beauty,” are related in the origin further confirms the suggestion that this is generally how people may have looked on such questions. Recalling that beauty means “to fit in every respect,” we could say that such a significance of “the good” is relevant today. In other words, the good is that which fits, not only in practical function and in our feelings and aesthetic sensibilities, but also that which by its action, leads to an ever-wider and deeper sort of fitting, in every phase of life, both for the individual and for the society as a whole.


Extracted from On Creativity by David Bohm (Routledge 1996).

David Bohm (1917-1992) was one of the most renowned physicists and theorists of the last century.

Image and text chosen by Tereza Stehlíková.