A playwright, lyricist and psychologist, James C. Kaufman’s professional and creative work explains why creativity matters — particularly why we should care about it, measure it and nurture it. For Kaufman, the practice and presence of creativity make life immeasurably sweeter.

Kaufman, a professor of educational psychology at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, theorizes that creativity is both a widespread phenomenon and critical to human development.

Rather than reserving the term “creative” for the favored few who produce globally acclaimed works of art or world-changing discoveries, he said, creativity is a label just as easily applied to the prosaic activities of everyday life — learning, problem-solving or making a junior high art project. In February, Kaufman kicked off the “Creativity Up Close” lecture series.

Kaufman’s “Four C Model of Creativity,” which he developed with colleague Ronald Beghetto, theorizes creativity as a trajectory. In doing so, his work effectively subdivides creativity into levels, intensities and magnitudes, and offers researchers a defined framework for situating creativity studies. The Four C’s range from mini-c, moments of meaningful insight, to little-c, which includes everyday creativity.

At the higher end, pro-c creativity designates work at an expert level, like publishing a paper or developing a scientific theory, and big-c is reserved for individuals who have changed the field in which they work, whose creation stands the test of time and who can legitimately be called creative geniuses.

In his lecture at Rice, Kaufman spoke to students about the role of creativity in the process of making meaning — emphasizing that all four C’s can make significant contributions. Modern theories of meaning tend to revolve around concepts of coherence, significance and purpose, and Kaufman contends that “creativity can lead you on a path to all three.”

Engaging in expressive writing, losing oneself in a creative task or leaving a creative artifact as a legacy all facilitate the formation of a comprehensible and meaningful self.

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