Sunday, October 26, 2008

Can Creativity Be Taught? Different Views

In yesterday's post, I cited an article in which the author suggested that creativity and innovation are not taught but can be killed. I have asked questions about teaching and measuring creativity of creative people in a variety of fields. One was Marc Millis, a NASA physicist who investigates breakthrough concepts for interstellar propulsion, and he cautioned against the idea of using a "cookbook approach" to teach kids to think creatively. At an arts education summit in Cleveland, I asked actor/author/NYU professor Anna Deavere Smith and other panelists whether creativity should be part of state standards and assessments and they were horrified at the thought.

On the other hand, John Kao, author of Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity and Innovation Nation (and an amateur jazz pianist), says people can learn to be creative: "Like jazz," he says, "creativity is a process, not a thing; and therefore you can observe, analyze, understand, replicate, teach, and even manage it.” He includes in his conception of creativity "the entire process by which ideas are generated, developed, and transformed into value." He says creativity "encompasses what people commonly mean by innovation and entrepreneurship. . . . both the art of giving birth to new ideas and the discipline of shaping and developing those ideas to the stage of realized value. (Jamming, 1996).

I think both views are right. I believe there is a component to creativity that just happens—the forces of an individual's unique make-up and experiences interacting with some type of spiritual source that might be called God, a higher power, nature, the collective unconscious, or the zeitgeist. Kao's definition of creativity—geared to business—might be broader or perhaps more purely intellectual or perhaps more instrumental than how those in the arts conceive of creativity. And I believe this is the kind of creativity that people think of as add it to the list of 21st century skills. And maybe this is why I have seen some hesitation among artists about getting too involved in this conversation.

I remember attending an event last year in which a businessman addressed teaching artists about a creativity initiative that was spearheaded by business people. The first artist I asked for a reaction had a very negative reaction and I saw uneasiness among others as well. It was interesting to me that these people who are trying to make a living with their art do not seem to be seeing this interest in creativity as a golden opportunity. There may be deep meaning in that reaction.

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