GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: NO5

Extraordinary creative activity has been characterized as revolutionary, flying in the face of what is established and producing not what is acceptable but what will become accepted. According to this formulation, highly creative activity transcends the limits of an existing form and establishes a new principle of organization. However, the idea that extraordinary creativity transcends established limits is misleading when it is applied to the arts, even though it may be valid for the sciences. Differences between highly creative art and highly creative science arise in part from a difference in their goals. For the sciences, a new theory is the goal and end result of the creative act. Innovative science produces new propositions in terms of which diverse phenomena can be related to one another in more coherent ways. Such phenomena as a brilliant diamond or a nesting bird are relegated to the role of data, serving as the means for formulating or testing a new theory. The goal of highly creative art is very different: the phenomenon itself becomes the direct product of the creative act. Shakespeare's Hamlet is not a tract about the behavior of indecisive princes or the uses of political power; nor is Picasso's painting Guernica primarily a propositional statement about the Spanish Civil War or the evils of fascism. What highly creative artistic activity produces is not a new generalization that transcends established limits, but rather an aesthetic particular. Aesthetic particulars produced by the highly creative artist extend or exploit, in an innovative way, the limits of an existing form, rather than transcend that form.

This is not to deny that a highly creative artist sometimes establishes a new principle of organization in the history of an artistic field; the composer Monteverdi, who created music of the highest aesthetic value, comes to mind. More generally, however, whether or not a composition establishes a new principle in the history of music has little bearing on its aesthetic worth. Because they embody a new principle of organization, some musical works, such as the operas of the Florentine Camerata, are of signal historical importance, but few listeners or   musicologists would include these among the great works of music. On the other hand, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro is surely among the masterpieces of music even though its modest innovations are confined to extending existing means. It has been said of Beethoven that he toppled the rules and freed music from the stifling confines of convention. But a close study of his compositions reveals that Beethoven overturned no fundamental rules. Rather, he was an incomparable strategist who exploited limits—the rules, forms, and conventions that he inherited from predecessors such as Haydn and Mozart, Handel and Bach—in strikingly original ways.

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The author considers a new theory that coherently relates diverse phenomena to one another to be the

  • A basis for reaffirming a well-established scientific formulation
  • B byproduct of an aesthetic experience
  • C tool used by a scientist to discover a new particular
  • D synthesis underlying a great work of art
  • E result of highly creative scientific activity

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