An anthropologist ponders the better angels of our nature—the ones armed with paintbrushes, notebooks, cameras, and plowshares.
According to Fuentes (Chair, Anthropology/Univ. of Notre Dame), an essential component of human nature is our ability to work the trove of materials made available to us by virtue of our “symbolic inheritance.” Our creativity is thereby an essential component of what makes us human; so, too, is our ability to work together in creative ways for creative ends, for what the author calls a “cocktail of creativity and collaboration.” The condensed tail of evolution, in that scheme, has a vulnerable gaggle of newly terrestrial simians figuring out how to fend off hunger, predation, illness, and other threats existential and otherwise while filling our lives with meaning and hope, allowing our kind “to reshape their world, thereby reshaping themselves.” It’s a pleasing vision and one decidedly more optimistic than the naked-ape-with-guns portraits of a past generation of anthropologists. Still, it’s one that requires only a few case studies to wrap up, and regrettably, part of the author's creativity turns on saying the same thing in numerous ways, with multiple variations on that trope that working together is a good thing and one that distinguishes us from other animals, which “do some ratcheting and scaffolding, but…lack the human combination of discovery, innovation, cooperation, and information transfer.” The diverse studies in creativity are good ones, though, encompassing everything from conflict resolution to learning how to use fire to cook—not just red meat, but fish and vegetables as well. Fuentes frowns on a few predictable things, like racism and war, but also on the paleo diet.
Though the science can get a little lite, this offers an informative, readable introduction to recent scholarship on the anthropology of creativity.