Art educators are always concerned with creativity, but what does that mean? How valuable is it, in the art world, or just in life in general?
Creativity is currently a hot topic, and not just in art, but across society, especially now with declining budgets and results-oriented programs being implemented across every sector.
Someone once told me that what artists do is solve problems. In this way, they really aren't very different from anyone else. Liberal arts students write and are taught to research so they can think critically before applying hand to keyboard.
Artists are also taught creative critical thinking. In fact, a main component of a successful art project, equal to technical mastery is the creativity and successful communication of that project.
But how do we measure creativity, and can it be taught? How significant is it that someone studies ceramics or jewelry and metal arts or photography in today's society? It is, but not so much in the sense that we are putting people in a disciplinary box: what we're doing is teaching people how to think.
What we are really doing is training artists to be designers as well as enabling them to be skilled technicians at a particular craft.
After that, it's up to them. Students can choose to be ceramic artists, or they can choose to do any number of other things across a number of other mediums to tell the world what they think.
This question of creativity was a main topic in a session I attended recently at the CCOPE (Canadian Conference of Photo Educators) at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., entitled, "Creative Curriculum."
Jason Hunter, associate dean of the School of Design and Visual Art at Georgian wrote his master's thesis on creativity and education. Is it measurable?
In fact, yes.
Is it teachable? In fact, yes, it is.
Hunter posed the question, what is creativity? He pointed out that the popular use of the term is often problematic because creativity, unlike something measurable like IQ, is not a stable psychological construct.
What creative educators need to do is assess divergent thinking.
Being creative is not just being technically good, said Hunter.
"Creativity is something innate to enjoying life. Even if all our students don't leave becoming stellar photographers making a ton of money, they leave being more creative, and that's a value for anyone's life ... knowing about divergent thinking can increase creativity ... but we need to go further than that."
We can measure creative ideas in a number of ways and encourage our students to become creative critical thinkers and problem-solvers by showing them the importance of four key factors:
Fluency, the most important aspect of divergent thinking - forcing yourself to increase the quantity of ideas you have to solve a particular problem makes you more creative.
"By simply striving for quantity a student will become more creative," said Hunter.
Before every project begins physically, we should look for a number of possible solutions. We can measure and teach flexibility, or the variation within those ideas ensuring that students don't fall into the pattern of solving a problem with a solution that worked before, just because it was successful the first time.
Sometimes, said Hunter, success can be actually become a barrier to flexibility.
We can encourage originality: problem-solving in new ways that actually reject common solutions.
"Originality is the degree to which one's ideas are unique in relation to the ideas of others."
This is why it's important to get out of your environment to look at things outside your sphere. How can you determine whether or not your ideas are unique if you are not aware of what is going on out there?
Finally, elaboration, specifically related to detail and complexity. Hunter referred to elaboration as the ability to work with more than one idea at a time.
"Elaboration," he said, "is required in order to translate an idea into a work of art."
Can you explain your ideas to someone else?
Can you research enough to give those ideas a body?
Being creative requires skill with one's craft. That's true. It is difficult to be creative when you are fighting with technique, he said.
Like Alberto Manguel, who presented the thesis, "Art is Not an Island" at the 2011 Christina Sabat Memorial Lecture at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in April, Hunter pointed out that art education does not espouse creativity as a goal in and of itself.
"Convergent thinking and editing are also skills students need to possess."
We need to nurture creativity while teaching students the skills to communicate those ideas. Creative thinkers need to be effective, convincing communicators.
Creativity is endless. You assign students the task of coming up with ten creative ideas, he suggests, but in the end they realize one of those ideas physically and it is evaluated for success and innovation.
The other nine ideas are the tip of a mountain of thoughts that might also be deemed appropriate and accessible, but at the end of the day there is only so much time.
Every day we encounter problems and hope that we can cope with them by solving them in appropriate ways.
How valuable is an arts education in today's society? If we are looking for innovation, originality, flexibility and fluency, then really an arts education is just as valuable as any other kind of education, and just as relevant.
Karen Ruet is a freelance writer and photographer living in Fredericton. She teaches at The New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and runs The Gallery at NBCCD.