Friday, April 23, 2010
In and out of the grey cube
“I’m not a creative person”.
How very often I have heard that, and my heart sinks for the person saying it.
Can creativity be taught? It seems there is some controversy on this point.
Two articles I’ve read lately give entirely opposing points of view. A discussion of Cal Arts admission policy stated that since they felt that creativity could not be taught, students had it or not.. they would only choose students for their MFA programs who had clearly already demonstrated that they were creative people. Sarah Thornton in her rather depressing and cynical book about the Art World states that most art teachers believe that creativity is a “personal process’ that cannot be taught. They certainly don’t teach it in most art schools and I never came across its having being taught anywhere except in business think tanks and those horrible motivational seminars on which some workplaces waste thousands of dollars – though maybe with the recession the “motivational business” is seen as the pseudo psychology that it often is!
On the other hand, Ken Robinson, in his U-tube lecture, specifically talks about teaching creativity to his students. He also discusses the ways in which modern education tends to crush any creative thinking by requiring precise rote answers, by punishing nonconformity and by allowing no time in the curriculum for thinking in any way other than pre programmed. If you can discourage it…can you encourage it?
Most of the articles on line about creativity are related to business brain storming – how to come up with a new widget to make more profits for the shareholders…as in “go back into your grey cube and think outside the box”! We’re programmed from childhood to live in the grey cube…and then suddenly we’re supposed to be able to think in a non-grey cube way! Well, I guess, if we’re lucky! It’s very much back to Throw out all the Rules! Now you must do this…and this …and this..and in such and such a manner and all by 3pm”.
If you think about it though it would not make any sense for us not to be creative – that’s the whole difference in the human brain…we can adapt and adapting means coming up with new solutions – which is being creative.
It’s difficult to measure how creative one person can be compared to another because as an activity – whether mental or physical it covers many different variables. Any behaviour with many different variables is really difficult to measure – look at all the work that has gone into trying to define intelligence or personality.
But I agree with Sir Ken, everyone can be creative…each time you change a recipe slightly, decide how to plant flowers in the garden, arrange ornaments on a shelf, write a letter, doodle, hum your own little tunes, stand up and wiggle in time to music, think strange thoughts (and yes, we all do!) you are being creative. If we practiced a lot at any one of these, then we would improve beyond the general norm and maybe come up with something that others would find quite remarkable.
Creative thinking can be quite dogmatic: following one step after another – as in various systems that suggest you think of two things and then follow a variety of steps involving different ways of combining these two things and similar activities. Or it can be unconscious, a solution being perceived in a dream (we all know abut Kekulé’s rings), or based on a combination of luck and awareness – as in the discovery of some molds’ antibiotic properties. Many creative endeavours involve generating many different possibilities or examples and then picking only the best. This holds true from discovering new drugs to painting 100 watercolors to have one that is inspiring.
It is obvious, however , that to be creative you need time, persistence, patience and an open mind. And with those…you can fly!
I’d love to hear from you how you think of your own creativity and what steps you take in a creative activity – and whether or not you believe that anyone can be creative.
If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth