Creativity is the spontaneous combustion that occurs within human beings that brings together seemingly disparate elements into something new or unique.
The mechanisms that allow for creativity in human beings encompass virtually every aspect of humanity. The variables that come into play in the creative process are as infinite as the possible results.
Creativity exists in us all. For many, it lays dormant, yet it’s part of being alive, of thinking, being conscious, of being human. Creativity is unstable, unpredictable, unreliable and often spectacular, all at the same time. Creativity sometimes requires a context, an equation or supposition, but usually answers its own questions, when it’s ready. It can happen after years of study, training and hard work or in an instant in the shower. Creativity can be beautiful and a consternation. Alive one day and at rest another. And, yet it can be developed in all of us. Especially in the young, who, if you can get them early enough, can be taught to keep themselves open to the possibilities and potential of tapping into this very human exercise.
As an artist and I have lived closely with this subject for a lifetime. As a educator I just begun teaching this subject to others. When I first entered into this arena, I had to ask, how do you define the indefinable? Creativity inherently defies a specific definition. It can be physical, spiritual and physiological, in any combination, at any given moment. It can flow one minute, run you over the next and be as allusive as a humming bird. And yet, there it is, a whole book with thousands of words, written by incredibly smart people from all over the planet on something that I took for granted and never cared to dissect or analyze.
The beginning of creativity lies in large part with genetics. The notion of the family, the gene pool, who not only may be creative themselves, but who understand that inherently creative people, sometimes need little more than some independent space to connect to what already resides in them. It’s through our genes that we carry forward the knowledge of the past, which forms the basis for the future.
Once you have some feel for the nature of the individual, the next most important element to creativity is the immediate surrounding environment. The importance of forming a creative environment that fosters an individuals creative experience cannot be overstated. Creativity cannot flourish where repression lives. It requires some level of an absence of constraints. Where people are free to exercise their creativity and form their own creative experience no regard for immediate results or judgments. It is only through “Imaginative play” where people are free to explore their own minds, to form thoughts, ideas, combinations, to incubate, illuminate and articulate with no regard for explicit results that real creativity can truly thrive.
Creating a rich environment is essential to both fostering and certainly sustaining a lifetime of creativity. It’s from this combination of parents and home that you create and sustain, creative, self-motivated people.
Once you have one, what do you do with them? Training and skill sets for highly motivated, creative people are usually attained at some great depth, but not always with great ease. It is not enough to pass over practice and technique just because you are talented. The notion of repetition to sub consciousness is essential to freeing the individual to reach truly creative space. Moving from conscious to preconscious to subconscious. The connection of the hand, to the eye, to the mind, to the work is a vast subject in of itself. The ability to minimize debilitating external constraints, including, the ability to let pass by those with too many opinions and little experience or ability of their own is essential.
Most youths who achieved eminence are characterized by high intellectual traits, but also persistence of motive and effort, confidence of their abilities and great strength or force of character”, this comes from a deep internal belief in self and the willingness to exert or exercise the gift.
The notion of convergent and divergent thinking as two distinct entities breaks creativity down into too small, inoperable pieces. Divergent and convergent thinking happens together as in the flow of a river where the water sometimes speeds up as it passes between two rocks and then splits apart as it approaches another, coming to a comingling rest in a pool before its begins on its way yet again. It may twist and turn, even reverse course before coming to a new path. There is interconnectedness to creative thought, where seemingly disparate subjects inform each other, where formation and reformation happen continuously, where ideas are chained and unchained in cognitive, conceptual combinations. Where old ideas are re-associated with new information to form new paths.
Where the more you work, the more you develop your creative ideas, the more you produce, and mature, and the more likely you are to create something of lasting substance. Ask any creative person who has lived to see any of what they make be seen in the public eye and they will tell you that for every second of light on their work in public, there are thousands of hours spent toiling in obscurity and silence, with no guarantee that anyone will ever see what they’ve produced.
Creativity is a large and diverse subject. While it may reside in us all, it is rarely given life. Most people have never had someone to help bring out their creativity, to teach them the arts and certainly to make being creative ok to express. Creativity takes nurturing and time. It takes patience and persistence. It’s only through time and practice does creativity begin to express itself.
Creativity in Society
Most people stand in awe in front of the expressive nature of a hundred million dollar Picasso painting. But they really don’t need to have one. They may however need the latest improvement in a minimally invasive microsurgery to repair something that has gone wrong inside themselves. Creativity exists, and influences society in all kinds of ways. And, in some ways that are more than just expression and incremental improvements.
The importance of Creativity in Society
Society cannot exist without creativity and creativity has no platform without society. The two are connected together in an endless march forward for humanity. I see society placing important value on creativity in three essential ways.
The first and most obvious way is in the form of artistic expression. (Moran, S 2010, the Creativity Handbook, Chap 4., P. 79). Creativity functions as a central medium in the relationship between people, culture and society. Creativity is the fuel that artists, writers, poets and musicians use to produce cultural events and societies artifacts. It’s essentially, along with talent, what draws thousands to concerts, museums and coffee shops on a daily basis.
The second, more subliminal, but more functional way creativity usually plays a role in society is through constant innovation, or as Moran puts it, improvement, (Moran, S 2010, the Creativity Handbook, Chap 4., P. 79). Often we, as a society take innovation for granted. Although, we happen to be living in one of the most impressive displays of innovation mankind has ever witnessed, the maturation of mobile, digital, communications technology. Normally innovation happens somewhat more in the background of society.
I’ve been witness to the constant cycle of innovation in the medical industry. As a service provider, I’ve worked for several small groups of individuals over the years that collectively innovate new medical products. They usually start together in a large company, come up with an idea for improvement or in some cases revolutionary ways of delivering treatment. They often spin out of these larger companies with venture capitol money, spend a few years developing the technology to where it is market ready. Then they sell the company to a larger company in that market space, take their proceeds and go on vacation for a year or two. Until, the urge to innovate again brings them back into the marketplace, where they reform their group and start the process all over again.
While there is undoubtedly an intentional profit motive behind their actions, there is also an undeniable purpose, a desire to help the health of people with their inventions and ideas (Kaufman, 2003). This process quietly creates a “positive spiral of productivity” that directly benefits mankind (Prajogo, 2006, Stonehouse & Minocha, 2008). Most of us never see innovation at work, until we need it. Often times, it’s in an emergency room or surgical suite that we see the results of improvement or innovation in society.
The third way I see creativity playing a role in society is through hope. Hope for the future, (Torrance, 1991, 1993, 2004). To this I look to NASA and companies like Space X. Creativity in the larger worlds of public science, like the human genome project and space explorations gives mankind hope for a better future, without which, things can look pretty grim sometimes. Why go to the red planet? It’s through these big thoughts, and daring creations that mankind forces or hurls itself forward.
Much has been said about the roles of benefactors, regulators, and certainly the historical time periods of great creativity and exploration, (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, Gardner (1993), Simonton, 2003). The role of power and the political climate in specific countries throughout time has had an enormous affect on what a society creatively leaves behind. What would humanity have, if not for the many cultures that have contributed to the collective creations of mankind? And, love them or hate them, it is the political systems that create stability and opportunity that best helps creative mankind.
How does all this come down to a single classroom? What can we do as teachers to contribute to the clear movement that is already underway? The current trend, which has brought technology, information and creativity directly into the hands of every individual, is having a profound affect on what societies produce, now and certainly in the very near future. It has been labeled “The Democratization of” . . . You can see the effects of technological democratization in a revolution of new, creative forms of communications that are leading change in every field, especially medicine and the life sciences where I teach and work.
STEAM is new? But it’s as old as renaissance thinking. The best way I can think of helping this form of thinking move back into the forefront, where it belongs, is to keep my classroom open to creativity and communication. To listen to the twenty something’s, who are revolutionizing the tools of economies and societies. To make sure my students understand that it’s OK to be creative. And maybe get out of their way when they are.
Bringing Creativity back into Education
I think one of the main things we can do as educators is to be open to the creativity that comes naturally out of the children right in front of us. In CA, I see lots of teachers, who, not having an arts education themselves are not sensitive to what is a valuable teaching resource right in front of them. I know that it’s difficult to be more spontaneous and open in the midst of top down, dictated curriculum, especially in CA, but I see lots of natural creativity in kids every day. Can we teach teachers how to be aware of this energy? Can we teach them how to identify, and redirect kids, creative energy?
This kind of turns the problem around and can become an opportunity. Are we, as teachers open to what the students offer? Can we take what comes out of them and create a pathway for that creativity in them?
This is especially true in the middle and high schools now, where technological natives are now maturing. As they grow, they will continue to change the landscape of learning on their own. It’s up to us, the older generation(s) that have to adapt to their world.
Can we be prepared in the moment and have the personal and professional tools at hand to offer them, in an instant, a way to express their creativity, the way that they are now used to.
For my projects, I went to Pinterest and typed in art and science. Pinterest came back with two categories and hundreds of projects and experiments that combine art and science.
A couple of my own are:
Using 3D colored objects and shapes to explain science, math and art. This is a very basic skill, like playing with building blocks, but if you take it further it can be used to explain Geometry, architecture, structural engineering, etc.
One of the Pinterest projects was putting a paint brush into a compass, dipping it in different color paints and creating with it. You could also do this with sponges that you cut into shapes.
My primary, go to art/science exercise is teaching kids to draw these same shapes, and then showing them how to draw their science homework. It works really well.
Check out these links, they are very simple, more for elementary kids, but they can be expanded upon.
Another art/science exercise that connects to nature is to either create a collage from leafs that fall of the trees or by taking leafs and using them as stencils to paint with. This can be tied in to earth science lesson and the like.
There are a thousand of these types of exercises for kids to create with.
Creativity in Highly Eminent Individuals
Google test aside, the lovely fruit that highly eminent creative individuals have produced represents the finest mankind has to offer itself. The depth and breadth of human creativity, especially from the truly powerful creative is astounding. And those works generally regarded at that level usually don’t include much outside the white Eurocentric world. See, Maori culture and woodcarvings for just a taste of what Polynesia has to offer or Cycladic sculpture of the Aegean.
Leave it to the Greeks, who spent far too much time drinking wine while laying on their backs coming up with creative diagrams of the heavens to glorify the effect of the muse on creativity. So many beautiful muses, so diverse over time, and with such a tremendous influence on the creative work of so many eminently creative people. How much does man owe to the incredible creative energy that muses gift to creative souls? Subtract the muses and we are left with little. Paris disappears.
Eminently creative individuals do not choose the subject of their own creations. It is born into them by forces far beyond their control. Picasso could never have switched places with Einstein. Spain made Picasso and Austria Einstein. They are both eminently creative people, but with different wiring. The thing they do share is a lowered resistance to resistance. It’s all so fluid, so fast, with interconnectedness to nature, few boundaries, and little no physical resistance to subject or substance. Gertrude Stein said of Picasso, “no one had ever tried to express things seen not as one knows them but as they are when one sees them without remembering having looked at them”. Who does that? Einstein painted physics and math in his mind; it was a game, play, and an exercise to him.
Instability via lots of expression. . . .
Eminently creative individuals are almost always very prolific souls, often troubled in many ways. But researchers have it backwards when they try to connect volumes of work to the likelihood of achieving creative eminence. Eminently creative individuals produce at such high volumes because of a rare combination of human components that come together in these types of people. In addition to the fluidity of mind and lowered resistance-to-resistance, they poses a burning desire to empty themselves of what they inherently know or believe is inside themselves before they go. Again, Gertrude Stein on Picasso, “he is a man who always has need of emptying himself, of completely emptying himself, it is necessary that he should be greatly stimulated so that he could be active enough to empty himself completely”. Picasso could take ethnographic sculpture from Africa, process it through his creative genius, incorporate it with other disparate elements and come up with completely unique works like, Les Demoiselles dAvignon 1907.
Eminently creative individuals are often rebellious characters trapped in a world they didn’t make, can’t control and can barely function in. They reject they world as it is presented to them, endeavor to create one that makes more sense to them, even if they are the only ones who get it. This exercise is often fueled by alcohol and other substances, it seems to grease the creative wheels even more. These people have little concern for what society would call boundaries. They are willing to confront norms that most people just placidly accept, they are often courageous, difficult, don’t listen well, or pretend and then disregard what others have to say. They are often not afraid to ruffle the feathers of those who don’t get it, and they can be unworldly in their persistence.
But this does necessarily make them unstable or even crazy. It’s a reaction to the world around them. To a man, or woman, if you asked them, they would say they are more aware of their own insanities than most, and what passes for “normal” is often insane to them. Van Gogh’s arc of color changes that persisted throughout his life from the deep Rembrandt browns of Amsterdam to the bold colors of Paris to the brilliant pastel hues of the south of France that he is most known for are as intuitive understanding of the science of light on nature as anything science has come up with. Certainly he was eminently creative and everyone easily acknowledges his madness. But was he really? Eating your paints because you are staving or committing acts of violence while being driven mad by friends and felines is a pretty common occurrence if you care to look at society. The fact that he captured it so brilliantly in color, so quickly is not insanity, it’s a perception to the natural world around him. So was him taking his own life. Did that make him crazy?
Eminently creative individuals in this world are an anomaly. A beautiful, unpredictable, creative, anomaly.