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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Replace Negativity with Creativity!

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What a great thought! Replace negativity with creativity.

I found this gem while reading Beautiful Faces by Jane Davenport. (Which by the way, is an awesome book. The link is her website.)

When I first read it “replace negativity with creativity,” I laughed out loud. Not because it was funny, but because it was remarkably good. It is such a brilliant, simple visual that holds profoundness beyond its uncomplicated beauty. I adore artistic creativity and engage in it often. But, when I read Jane’s words I immediately thought of creative thinking.

“YES!” I thought. “Let’s replace negativity with creativity. Let’s replace negative thinking with creative thinking!”

Unlike negativity, creative thinking “bridges the gap between what is dreamt and what is desired; it knows no bounds and is not restricted by possibilities.” How fantabulous is that?!!

I recently returned from my yearly appointment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I gotta say, those doctors, nurses, and researchers are some seriously brainy men and women! They are constantly engaging cancer, and all its destructive negativity, with their brilliance and creative thinking.

This visit, my oncologist and I talked about a drug they are creating specifically for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. He shared a myriad of thoughts, ideas and wonderings that they are encountering in their work. He was apologetic as he told me they hadn’t yet completed the drug.

I chuckled inwardly and said, “Oh my! I’m not surprised at all that it’s super difficult and entails a boat load of hard work. It is one crazy, fabulous, brilliantly-complicated piece of creative thinking and doing!”

Like me, and all creatives, my doctor and his team employ many processes and strategies as we work to replace negativity with creativity. Here are a few I regularly employ.

  • Possibility thinking
    • Being open to the notion that there are many possibilities. Possibilities not yet conceived, as well as those imagined but not yet realized.
  • Lateral thinking
    • Looking at the problem/issue from all different angles, even those that might seem a bit ridiculous, implausible or less than useful.
  • Divergent thinking
    • Generating all sorts of ideas — ones that are outside, as well as inside, the box.
  • Making connections
    • Many times these connections are between seemingly unrelated things.
  • Conversation
  • Silence
  • Fermentation
    • LOL! I’m not sure anyone else refers to it as fermenting, but I enjoy the image. This is when I stop deliberate consideration of the problem or any possible solutions. Much like actual fermentation it mught look like nothing is happening. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. My unconcious mind is working to make sense of my ideas, and at some point, clarity and/or new ideas blubble up to my conscious mind, bursting forth as flashes of insight or revised ideas.
  • Questioning
    • I’m like a 5 year old! I ask lots of questions – especially, but not limited to, “How might we?” “What if?” “How come?” “How do you know?” and “Why not?”
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
    • My MA tutor Karl K. Jeffries — also quite a brainy dude — suggested a walk, whenever I was being overcome by “existential angst” thinking my research and effort was meaningless, and would never amount to anything. The stepping away and moving — especially walking outside — was always valuable.
  • Deep sighs of relief
    • Uri Alon — yet another brainy guy in my universe — talks about deep sighs of relief in his systems biology lectures. In a relaxed state he says “we tend to be more curious, playful … it’s good for learning.” Uri states there is actually a feedback loop between the relaxed state and breathing. We breathe more deeply when we are relaxed, and we can induce that more relaxed state by breathing deeply  — by taking, as he explains “deep sighs of relief.” Try it, it actually works! I use deep sighs of relief regularly with myself and my Kindergarten students. Depending on the vigor of your exhale, it can be very funny!
  • Looking deeply
    • This deep looking sometimes involves research, but often is simply prolonged purposeful staring at my ideas and thoughts.
  • Openness to the new, surprising, and unexpected.
  • Risk taking
    • Sometimes all of the above is the risk taking endeavor, sometimes the risk is about the action, sometimes about the product.
  • Critical Thinking and evaluation
    • Having done all these things and more, I then need to think critically and see if my ideas, products or processes are actually useful.
  • Perseverance
    • It’s super important to continue — even when it is tough, frustrating, and we’re deep in the cloud. Rethinking, starting the process all over again, remaining open, hopeful and determined are essential if we are to replace negativity with creativity.

I’m going to keep at it in my life and my work. I have no doubt the Dana-Farber people will too. My fingers are crossed they will succeed in creating a drug for WM treatment sooner rather than later — successfully erasing a bit more negativity in the world.

How about you?

What will you do?

I hope you’ll give it a go.

Replace negativity with creativity!

I believe in you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cloud Appreciation Society

“In the middle of my Ph.D., I was hopelessly stuck. Every research direction that I tried led to a dead end. It seemed like my basic assumptions just stopped working.” (Uri Alon)

Yay, baby, me too. When working on my MA, and again yesterday!

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I was all set: overhead projector rigged up, design sketched out – fabulous! Then I stepped back to admire my work, and …. hated it! Everything that had been clear and lovely, was now out of proportion and displeasing. What had happened? Why hadn’t I thought about the distortion that would occur when I enlarged the design?

Frustrated I thought “Eee gads! What am I going to do now?”

I'm in the cloud,- and I say, -Great, you must be feeling miserable.- (Laughter) But I'm kind of happy, because we might be close to the boundary between the known and the unknown, and w

Thankfully I recalled I’m a card carrying member of the “Cloud Appreciation Society!” I said “Come on girl! Acknowledge you’re in the cloud. Be happy. Breathe. Trust the process.”

24 hours and several attempts later, I’m back on track.

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But, now I’m thinking about the cloud and my students. Have I told them about about the cloud? Are they card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society? I don’t think so.

I’m going to make some cards and remedy that ASAP!

Yes, and … in the classroom

Back in July, I hipped you to Uri Alon’s awesome TED talk. (https://creativitylovingeducator.com/2014/07/05/in-the-cloud-with-uri-alon/) I said we’d talk once you watched the video. Well, hopefully you found the time (If not, go now!), because here we go!

So, yes, Uri Alon. How do we transfer his ideas into the classroom? Do his ideas have any merit in a classroom where we are laying a foundation of skills, facts and knowledge? Isn’t it important, and in fact necessary, that we as teachers teach our students what is correct? Wouldn’t we be doing a disservice to our students if we engaged in “Yes, and …” conversations? How is “Yes, and …” valuable in, for instance, a kindergarten classroom?

All great questions. I think it is a matter of balance – not “either or” but, “yes, and!” LOL!

As a teacher I understand the necessity of giving my students a broad base of knowledge and facts. It would be irresponsible of me to never correct a child, but it would be equally irresponsible if I never engage in “yes, and …” conversations with them.

“Yes, and …” conversations provide opportunities for profound things to happen for me, and for my students. Given a “yes, and …” response by me, my students are given permission and space to enter into a dialogue with me, their peers, themselves, and their work and thought.

They must engage in metacognition and  attempt to articulate their thinking. Why do they believe what they believe? How is it true?

By thinking about their thinking, and struggling to adequately express their thoughts, they will practice, and hopefully enhance, many essential skills:

  • metacognition
  • thinking about their thinking
  • critical thinking
  • creative thinking
  • articulating
  • emotional intelligence
  • negotiation
  • listening
  • analyzing
  • comparing
  • evaluating
  • experimenting
  • summarizing
  • valuing mistakes and learning from them, instead of running from them

They may discover their thinking was flawed at a certain point, and upon rethinking, may arrive at the correct answer with greater understanding and knowledge. Or, they may discover why their answer was correct, and grow in confidence and understanding.

Additionally, “Yes, and …” conversations benefit me as a teacher (and learner). By engaging in “yes, and …” conversations with my students I too enhance all the skills listed above. I may discover they are thinking along a path I never considered. I may discover that my instructions, or thinking, were flawed or ambiguous, or, simply different from theirs. Plus, I grow in my understanding of my students’ thinking. Focusing on the process, and the path they took to their answer/understanding, I am more able to encourage, affirm, and/or correct.

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One year I asked my students to draw a picture of their family. One student came to me, excited to show me her picture. It was a lovely picture, but their were no people in it! I looked at her, and she looked at me. I was perplexed, so I asked her what she drew. “My house,” she replied. “Did I ask you to draw your house?” I asked. “Nope,” she replied. “You asked me to draw my family.” I looked at her with a smile, and a bit of a raised eyebrow and said “So, where’s your family.”

It seemed she hadn’t noticed any problem until I asked her about the whereabouts of her family. She leaned on the table – one hand on either side of her paper – studying her drawing intently. She looked, and thought. I waiting silently.

Finally she looked up, with a huge smile on her face – eyes glowing with the discovery she had just made. “THEY’RE IN THE HOUSE!!!!!” I couldn’t restrain myself, as the answer was so unexpected, and burst out laughing! “They’re in the house? What are they doing in there? Do you think you can draw them so we can see them?” She looked at the picture one more time, said yes, and began to draw faces in the windows.

That was an awesome example to me of a “Yes, and …” type of conversation benefiting both my student and me. She had to think about the task and her response. She had to problem solve. I had to trust her, wait, and re-evaluate my directions.

We both walked away with greater understanding and confidence in ourselves and each other. Fabulous!

 

RESOURCES:

The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace, edited by R. Brian Stanfield,  http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Focused-Conversation-Workplace/dp/0865714169

The Cloud … in the Classroom

“The cloud stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown, because in order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change, and that means that in science, we do something quite heroic. Each day, we try to bring ourselves to the boundary between the known and the unknown and face the cloud.” Uri Alon

When I first listened to Uri’s TED talk, I immediately related as a researcher. I had experienced the misery of the cloud, the benefit of support in my cloud-induced-angst, and finally the joy, relief and wonder of new ideas and conclusions. But, then I wondered, where is the cloud in my life as an educator? Where is the cloud in the classroom?

I listened to his talk again, jotted notes from the transcript, and let the question ferment in my brain as I drove, walked, showered and slept … and, I had a revelation. The cloud is in the classroom every day because the cloud IS education! Let me modify his statement.

“The cloud stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown, because in order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change, and that means that in education, students and teachers do something quite heroic. Each day, we try to bring ourselves to the boundary between the known and the unknown and face the cloud.” Uri Alon rephrased by Molly James

Think about it! Isn’t that what education is all about? Discovering new things? Learning new skills? Challenging assumptions? Understanding things in new and deeper ways?  Bringing ourselves and our students to the boundary between the known and the unknown and facing the cloud … together.

I don’t know about you, but I think that is SPECTACULAR!!! All of a sudden students are elevated to a new level. They are protagonists in their own learning. They are brave, heroic explorers confronting their own clouds and emerging victorious with new insights, understanding and skills.

Wow.

In the cloud with Uri Alon

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If you haven’t watched Uri’s TED talk, you should!

His TED talk bio begins …. “Uri Alon studies how cells work, using an array of tools (including improv theater) to understand the biological circuits that perform the functions of life.”

How awesome is THAT?? A big time scientist using improv theater as a research aid. Give it a look and then we’ll talk.

http://www.ted.com/talks/uri_alon_why_truly_innovative_science_demands_a_leap_into_the_unknown?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2014-06-13&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=bottom_left_image#t-927335