Creative Arts and the Art of Creativity

Amazing how much past learning, reading and conversation is coming to mind and  informing this post.  Thinking of a title for the post I considered Creative Arts or the Art of Creativity. Almost immediately, Uri Alon’s TEDtalk, and his use of the phrase “Yes, and …” popped into my mind. Nope, can’t be or, must be and. Hence the blog post title —  Creative Arts and the Art of Creativity. Both are valuable and important, and I don’t want to suggest anything different in my title.

Will Burns wrote an article entitled Should Education Focus Less on the Creative Arts, More on the Art of Creativity? I loved his conversation with his son about creativity.

Just this morning I asked my son who just graduated high school to name the most creative person in his class and why he thought so. He thought about it and said, “I think it would be Cassidy Davis (changed name) because she is incredibly good at drawing people’s faces.” My son seemed to equate “creativity” with a talent. But, interestingly, he went on to say, “Yeah, she does these drawings of people but then puts them into these scenes that are totally trippy and surreal.” (Will Burns, Forbes, August 7, 2017 @ 01:26 PM)

Burns exclaimed “Now that is creativity.”

I chuckled when I read that. I agree, that does sound creative. Cassidy moved beyond her talent to produce “good drawings” and interjected some creativity — placing the expertly drawn faces in fantastical scenes, created in her imagination and translated onto the page through her fingers.

Considering the definition of creativity, and whether or not something was creative, brings me back to the many awesome conversations with Karl during and after my MA Creative Thinking work at UCLan.

What exactly is creativity? Is it the same as talent? Is it connected to talent? Can we teach it? How? (And, a zillion other questions.) For now, the important conversation centers on the definition of creativity.

Creativity is new and useful or appropriate. So yes, when I read Burn’s son’s description I thought “Wow, that sounds creative, and quite cool.” But, if Cassidy’s drawings were not appropriate to the task at hand, they would not be creative. Talented and unique, perhaps, but not creative. Interesting, right?

I thought of this the other day as I did some plein air painting in the Adirondacks.

After hiking in, I settled myself, and my watercolors, on rocks in the river. I love this spot on the Ausable River, and I wanted to enjoy the river, the air and the moment. My artistic/creative goal was to capture the movement and spirit of the water, while incorporating a bit of the color mixing I had done at home.

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As I sat — breathing and thinking in this great space — I was splashed repeatedly by the river as it flowed by me. Through those splashes, I felt the river asking for my attention, gently nudging me to capture its essence by actually using it in my painting.

I put aside my waterbrush and began gathering water from the river. Slowly, splashes, drips, and then rivers of water, formed on my paper. Grabbing my brush, I wet my paints with the river water. The many colors of nature began to form on the page as the paints moved through the water. Sometimes they glided past one another without mixing, and other times they crashed into one another, swirling into ribbons and pools of new colors.

It was a fascinating and enjoyable process. I noticed the many things I could, and could not control in the process. Much like I must do when walking on the river, I accepted and relaxed – respecting the power but not fearing it.

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I am not sure anyone would consider me a great watercolor talent after seeing this painting. I am growing in my knowledge, skill, understanding and talent. But, a great talent? Not yet.

But, is it creative? Yes — it is a new idea that is appropriate to my task and goal.

I wasn’t sure I had achieved the essence of the river until I tried to photograph the painting. It looked best when it sat amidst the rocks. Just like the water around it, it gathered strength, grace, beauty and meaning from the rocks.

Back to one of my original questions. Is creativity the same as talent? No.

Is it then, completely different, completely removed from creativity? Again, no.

Thesaurus.com includes ability as a synonym for talent. They define it as “natural or acquired power” in something.

I am, for the first time, having this insight about talent and creativity. Perhaps talent and creativity are related just the way talent and playing the piano, talent and doing math, or talent and fencing are related. As my skills grow, my talent grows. As my understanding grows, my talent grows. As I practice, try, fail, learn, succeed — my talent grows. The talent can be in relationship to a plethora of different things — including creativity.

And, as my creativity grows – as a thinker in general, or in a specific arena – my talent, so to speak, always grows. Think of jazz musicians, scientists developing life saving drugs, mathematicians proposing or solving incredible problems, poets writing exquisite poems — their talent feeds their creativity, which in turn feeds their talent! It is a beautiful feedback loop.

Neither talent nor creativity are fixed abilities. We all have the ability to be talented and creative. Some may be more innately talented or creative, and levels of talent and creativity vary.  But, and this is an incredibly important thing for everyone — perhaps especially, parents, teachers and young people — to hear, with learning and practice, everyone can grow in talent and creativity.

This leads me back to Mr. Burn’s article Should Education Focus Less on the Creative Arts, More on the Art of Creativity?  and back to my “Yes, and …” from the beginning of this post. I love Burn’s thoughts in his article about the importance of creativity, and of a teacher with an MA Creative Thinking to help others navigate. However, I lean towards Uri Alon’s idea — Yes, and.

Yes, creative arts, AND, yes, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY the art of creativity.

I think, perhaps, Mr. Burn’s would agree with that statement. But, that’s for another post!

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Long Live Convergent Thinking and Knowledge! 

One of the first articles I wrote about when I was getting my MA Creative Thinking was In Praise of Convergent Thinking, by Arthur Cropley.  I was a fan of divergent thinking, and praised it often! I was intrigued by the idea that convergent thinking should be praised in creativity, as well. After reading his article, I agreed! Convergent thinking and knowledge are  super important parts of creativity.  Look: “In the area of convergent thinking, knowledge is of particular importance: It is a source of ideas, suggests pathways to solutions, and provides criteria of effectiveness and novelty.”  (Cropley, 2004, p. 2) Makes sense, right?

Then I discovered the work of Teresa Amabile — among other things, her componential theory of creativity. In a working paper summary from 2012  she writes that the componential theory of creativity “specifies that creativity requires a confluence of four components: Creativity should be highest when 1) an intrinsically motivated person with 2) high domain expertise and 3) high skill in creative thinking 4) works in an environment high in supports for creativity.” (Amabile, 2012) Domain expertise includes, — you guessed it — knowledge.

I spend a ton of time outdoors and enjoy playing around with plein air watercolor painting. The other day, I stowed my new travel water color set — 24 colors — in my backpack and set out. Reaching the summit I broke the kit open and began. I quickly realized there is a plethora of different colors in nature, and I wasn’t sure how to create them from my 24.

What was I to do?

Funny, at that moment, I saw the beautiful faces of my kindergartner artists asking me the same question. I told myself what I tell them. “Do your best and don’t fret!”

So, that’s what I did!

I wasn’t sure how to make the many colors I saw, but I did my best. I had a blast! I looked at the beauty before me for a long time — soaking it in. I sketched some rough ideas, and looked some more. I noticed shapes, colors, gradients, clouds, glints of light and much more. Finally I picked up my brush, made my best decisions, and ended up with a rather pleasing product.

But, I hadn’t forgotten what I’d learned from Cropley and Amabile, so when I got home I got out some sheets of watercolor paper, created a grid, opened my watercolors, poured myself a glass of sparkling water, and set to work. I was amazed, and really quite surprised, by the colors that were created when I mixed the paints.

This chart contains the colors obtained by combining only two colors at a time. Imagine what might happen if I mixed more than two at once!!! Or, just think how much more I might learn by contemplating the chart and noticing characteristics about each color.

The possibilities are endless.

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This was such a simple, pleasant lesson about the importance of convergent thinking and knowledge for creativity. Of course I can be creative with the knowledge I already have. I understand some things about color theory and how colors combine. But, I learned so much by doing this work. I have no doubt it will impact me next time I paint. I’m excited to see how this will increase my creativity — not my talent — but my creativity.

To further sing the praise of convergent thinking and knowledge, several times I had to use them as I created the chart. I would absent-mindedly move to wash my brush in my sparkling water, and once even lifted the brush-washing water glass towards my lips! Thank goodness for convergent thinking and knowledge which reminded me that it might be unique, but not at all useful,  to wash my brush in my sparkling water, or to drink the brush-washing water that was in the small glass!

Long live convergent thinking and knowledge!

 

RESOURCES:

Amabile, T. (2012, May 22). Componential Theory of Creativity. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/componential-theory-of-creativity

Cropley, A. (2006, July).  In Praise of Convergent Thinking. Creativity Research Journal,18(3):391-404. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247807708_In_Praise_of_Convergent_Thinking

 

Possibility thinking

While researching creativity I read several articles by Anna Craft. She suggests the idea of “possibility thinking” as a key element of creativity and an important part of education.

Possibility thinking involves exactly what it says – thinking about possibilities. It involves current knowledge, as we consider what the element/thought is and how it is used. But, it also involves knowledge yet unknown, “what might it be?” and “how might we use it?”

While it is important for us to help our students develop and broaden their knowledge, I believe (agreeing with Craft) that helping our students develop the ability and willingness to engage in possibility thinking is key! Possibility thinking allows us, and our students, to embark on new paths of thinking, and opens the door to new understanding, ideas and discoveries.

Here is a profound example of everyday possibility thinking (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15DE8_-ptZ8). A dad fashions a usable prosthetic hand for his son after viewing a video posted by Ivan Owen – co-creator of the Robohand prosthesis (Here’s a link to Ivan’s ted talk – http://www.tedxrainier.com/events/2013tedxrainier/ivan-owen).

WOW! There are so many great things about this story. First of all, of course, is a young man now able to use his hand.

But there is more – possibility thinking, a generosity of spirit and thought when Ivan Owen open sourced his idea, a mix of convergent and divergent thinking, collaboration, taking risks, experimenting, re-thinking, improving design, persevering, and continuing in the face of skepticism. All this ….

Think of the levels of possibility thinking (and I’m sure there are even more than I mention)

  • Considering and developing a printer.
  • Expanding on that idea which leads to considering and developing a 3D printer!
  • Imagining the possibilities of what can be created with the printer – including affordable, DIY-able, customizable hands!

Un-believable! Or no, not unbelievable, totally believable to someone open to possibility.

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