What Is Creativity and How Can We Teach It?

I was inspired to do a post on this topic after reading my group partner Greg Reese’s blogpost and podcast titled Creativity… Can It Be Taught? From the podcast,  video, and Marvin Bartel’s work shared by Greg, I gathered some opinions that others have about creativity:

1)  Greg Reese*: Creativity can’t be taught explicitly; teachers need to create conditions where students can blossom; a teacher needs to know when to get out of the way.

2) Kirby Ferguson: Copy, Transform, Combine “These are the basic elements of all creativity, I think everything is a remix, and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity.”

3) Marvin Bartel: People are naturally imitators, but this does not promote innovation or critical thinking. Limitations and restrictions can promote creativity in students in a way that leaving them to do what they please cannot.

Young Child Painting

CC licensed flickr photo shared by allee-baba

Many people immediately think about painting, drawing, and  other visual arts when they hear the word creativity. Some may even think about other art forms like music, drama, dance or even language arts, writing and poetry. Creativity is sometimes just a buzz-word to me. Therefore, I’ll start with an exploration of what creativity means.

Wikipedia states that “creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby something new is created which has some kind of subjective value (such as a joke, a literary work, a painting or musical composition, a solution, an invention etc). It is also the impetus and motivational force behind any given act of creation, and it is generally perceived as being associated with intelligence and cognition.”

The article goes on to note the many definitions of creativity from different disciplines including education, science and psychology with only a brief mention of creativity in the arts.

Creativity is also linked to words such as imagination, progressive, original.

For several assignments that I have completed to Education course requirements the class was instructed to complete assignments ‘creatively’, meaning through artistic representation or “something other than an essay.” While this is great for me personally, I feel like some students become trapped in this unrestricted assignment, similar to Bartel’s points above. Many students bring very creative ideas in essay format. It can be very restrictive to say to someone, especially with an over excited and bubbly disposition, “Be creative!”

Creative Pincusion

CC licensed flickr photo shared by The HUB Network

After a 3-year B.A. in Studio Art, 2 years in the College of Education and repeatedly having others refer to me as ‘creative,’  my understanding of creativity is to relate it to problem solving. For me, true creativity is using what you have to accomplish what you need/want to do. This might involve putting two or more things/ideas that have already been used together, or it might be entirely unique. Creativity in the arts refers to solving the problems that come with creating something (a product). For example, a painter needs to discover how to mix paints to get a particular colour, or how to represent a specific texture on a two dimensional surface (process).

The more I look into how I think about creativity, the more I discover that these things have already be thought of or said or researched and I realize I’m thinking in circles, and that this post is getting very long. Thank you to Wikipedia (look under “Aspects of Creativity”) for summing some of them for me.

In reading more on his website I discovered that Bartel also compares artistic behaviour to the scientific method very well. He explores “the relationship between art and learning to think.” This is akin to my thinking on the topic.

Creativity = Thinking

CC licensed flickr photo shared by davidyuweb

In sum, I’d like to finish with one of Greg’s ideas: “we don’t want a multiple choice type of education”. I believe that we need to teach students how to problem solve, how to discover the answers, how to ask questions, and how to think for themselves. (Marvin Bartel discusses how to do this in visual art classes as well.) This is ultimately the scientific method – problem, hypothesis, research, experiment, analysis, conclusion – and when this method is done without explicit direction it becomes inquiry (another buzzword in education). Therefore creativity=thinking. 
Finally, to relieve myself from over thinking and obsession on the topic (creative overload?? ha ha) I had some fun! To respect copyright I will not post these, but I strongly suggest a Google Image search of “Calvin and Hobbes + Creativity.” 
*Greg, I hope I summarized your thoughts accurately, if not I apologize. Either way you inspired ‘creative’ thought in me.


Filed under Creativity, Problem Solving

3 Responses to What Is Creativity and How Can We Teach It?

  1. Greg

    It’s interesting. I think that Kirby Ferguson is making a good point in some ways. We shouldn’t be afraid to borrow from other artists. And for a long, long time, this was not a problem. The majority of Shakespeare’s story-lines are lifted from elsewhere, Bob Dylan took form traditional folk songs, etc. Then, all of a sudden, the copyright police started cracking down (but that is a whole other can of worms). What I want to say to Ferguson, though, is how can you say George Harrison isn’t original because he understands (and incorporates) the melodies of previous soul and R & B songs? That seems ridiculous to me. There is more to a song than the source material that was either intentionally or subconsciously borrowed. I could go on…

  2. Greg

    Also, I’m glad you are digging this topic!

    • Allison de Hoop

      Thanks, I think this topic will forever interest me and I will keep changing how I think about it. I like hearing from your music background because it is so different from a visual arts perspective.