Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Creativity Crisis (via Newsweek)

Here's a great article from the newest issue of Newsweek provides food for thought for those of us with kids, or who want to teach, or who care about art, or who care about America still generating great minds. Surely at least ONE of those criteria apply to you, right?

As Eliot Eisner and many other art-education advocates and theorists have noted, art education provides students with "Habits of Mind" (Eisner's term) which are not necessarily instilled through other, more academic -- and thus more typically privileged in a curriculum -- subjects.  These habits encourage flexible, creative thinking, which benefits students not only in the art class, but in other classes and for the rest of their lives as members of society.

All fine and well for theorists to talk up the arts, of course, but this Newsweek article cites several scientific studies which show that creativity exercises (such as those found in a good art classroom) literally strengthen brain functions.  It also states that American schools, and thus American adults, are falling behind Chinese and Asian schools in terms of creative thinking, which is hurting our industries and our ability to deal flexibly with important left-field issues as they arise.

Perhaps these are the angles from which to push for increased art-educational opportunities, in order to get the broadest coalition of supporters:  science proves it and it's for the sake of our economy.  

On a related note (and no, I am not saying that this project is exactly what America needs to regain its position at the top of the creative market), here are a few pictures of sculptures made by first-graders in response to a guided visualization I led them through while working as a student-teacher this spring.  In the visualization, I had them imagine flying in a spaceship to the end of the universe, landing on a planet unlike anything Earthlings had ever seen, and meeting an alien from that planet.  They then used homemade play-dough (which could be reformed - changing the shape) and found materials (which could be recontextualized - changing the meaning) to create the alien.

Sure, many of the aliens used similar materials - straws and toothpicks especially - but each student used them differently, and gave different explanations as to what the materials were.  On one alien, toothpicks were poisonous spikes, on another, they were wind showing movement in a direction.  One alien's snorkels were made with the same bendy straws as another alien's legs and the "laser sticky arms" of another.  Each student was encouraged to create his or her own solutions, and find his or her own problems.  American education needs more of that, not only from me (certainly not only from me!!) but from every teacher.

This alien is pretty much my favorite piece of student artwork ever - my cooperating teacher will vouch for me that I was all but in love with it.  The student found a teapot lid in the box of found materials, and quickly realized that this wouldn't work as a stable base for a clay alien.  His response was to make a mobile sculpture (it rolls in circles) with toothpicks, pipe cleaners and feathers reaching out in an arc which beautifully spins as the alien rolls.  This six- or seven-year-old was thinking about kinetic movement and purposing his materials as intently as Alexander Calder did when making his early circus sculptures.  

Anyhow, the Newsweek article makes a really good case for giving more students more access to the arts - visual, performative, musical, etc.  Here's hoping that principals and parents read the article, so that it isn't just bouncing around the creative-arts-teacher echo chamber...


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  2. Hi there! This is a great article you've written and I hope you wouldn't mind that I linked one of your photos (back to your own article) for use in our own art studio's blog:
    We are so excited to see others who have made such a strong connection between the arts, creativity, and educational evolution and wanted to let our readers see your work!
    -Lauren (Co-founder of ARTifact in San Francisco)

    1. Thanks so much and sorry it took me THREE YEARS to say so!