Friday, July 31, 2009

A brief aside this morning: a few comments on creativity and education and how, often, the two do not go hand in hand.

I just watched a twenty minute video suggested to me by a young art student with whom I am working. The video is part of the 2006 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) annual conference on 'ideas worth spreading'. These particular comments by the respected British visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken Robinson, are his thoughts about creativity and education. Quite entertaining in their presentation, his words rang very true in my ears.

When it comes to encouraging the innate creativity that I believe we are all born with, sometimes a school room, to my way of thinking and apparently that of Sir Ken as well, is not the best environment to foster and nurture the continuing development of those leanings.

I have often been asked by people at art shows, gallery events, lectures and casual social occasions, how they might best encourage a child who they see as maybe having some sort of artistic talent. My response has always been the same - let them 'DO'! Let them draw or paint or sculpt or putter wherever and whenever. Forget the coloring books, with their pre-dictated enclosed boundaries. Forget setting limitations on what they might draw or paint or form. Supply them with the basic things, blank sheets of paper or a pocket sketch book and let them do whatever comes into their mind.

When I was in college studying for my teaching degree, I had to intern over several sessions at a couple of different schools under the supervision of the in house teachers. I recall a number of incidents when I was just stupefied at the totally adult directed, non-child based level of teacher control over what were supposed to be creative happenings; in essence, 'here is your paper, here is the elephant I want you to draw, here are the colors to use on 'your' drawing'.

It did not take me long to realize that many of those 5 year olds were quite frustrated at their having to follow the dictates of what everyone else in the room was supposed to be doing. It hurt me to watch this.

When it came time for my first venture into leading an extended classroom art activity, I recall, just before Thanksgiving that one year, bringing into class a huge cardboard box, filled with all sorts of scraps of cloth, paper, cutouts from magazines, markers, lengths of string and fuzzy pipe cleaners and strips of rubber and all sorts of goodies. I also had a very roughly formed styrofoam shape that resembled a turkey's body enough that the kids knew what it was. After dumping out all the contents of the box, and placing the turkey shape in the middle of the table, I said to the somewhat astonished group of children, something on the order of, 'Tom the Turkey needs a good dressing. See what you can do in the next twenty minutes. You can use anything on the table or if you have something else in the room that you would like to use, go for it!'

The children just sat there for what seemed to be agonizing minutes, not moving, with very puzzled looks on their faces. It became apparent to me that they were still waiting for 'direction' and what to do and how to do it. That hurt.

Ultimately, after I had picked up a piece or two of cloth and paper and sort of dashed them around the form of the turkey body and made what I hoped were non-leading suggestions of how they might begin, several of the children began to grab up items and talk to one another about what they could do with them. As I watched from the corner of the room, seated next to the classroom teacher who kept whispering into my ear that 'they will never get it', the children began to get into the swing of it. By the end of that twenty minute session, there sat on the table a rather jaunty, colorful turkey surrounded by very proud and smiling faces. Sure it was a big mess, but what was more important was the fact that no adult had really told them how to do it and left it completely up to them what to use, how to use it and where to put it.

At the end of that day's classroom, several of the children came up to me as they were putting on their coats and asked when they might do 'that' again. It was very gratifying to me to see that there was still that spark of creativity within them and had not yet, been totally taught out.

I do believe that children can sit in a classroom and learn some basic fundamentals when it comes to being an artist, but if they want to educate themselves and allow their innate creative talents to flow, the best route is by doing; by sketching when and wherever they can, by challenging themselves and being told that it is OK to try and fail sometimes and to be able to move on to the next trial without fear of failure, by letting themselves follow whatever course of discovery they might choose at any given moment and not be stifled.

Of my many art school teachers, as I have discussed recently with that young art student with whom I am currently working, there are several who stand out in my memory as ones that fostered my own, personal creative level, who set up situations and assignments in ways that left me in total command of how and what to do always knowing that they were there to offer input and help to resolve issues, when asked. But, they were in the minority for sure, and of the others who made any impression on me at all, I only remember the angst they caused me, or the fear they instilled in me at the time of imminent failure or the idea of never being able to attain their goals.

Creativity needs room to breath, sources to feed upon, a nurturing environment in which to grow, access to an entire world of possibilities, but it can be subdued and defeated, stifled and deadened when these windows of fresh air are shuttered and fogged over .


I have dived right into this one and the water's fine!


dale kinsey jr said...

Terry, it amazes me that you are able to develop an idea so quickly and get it down on paper. I look forward to following your latest composition. I am an artist wannabe and my list of questions are long. I enjoyed your explanation of how one can work with objects in the center of the image and use them to draw the eye into the drawing. Dale

Kathryn Hansen said...

thanks for sharing that video on was fantastic!! i'm passing it on to a lot of people.

Terry Miller said...

Hey, my pleasure to share the link to that video, but as I mentioned, it is all thanks to this young art student who put me on to it. And Dale, ask away!