Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Sermon on Creativity

I went on a blog hiatus for a while. I found myself knee deep this past Autumn in art education, as I have returned to school. Now I am waist deep in work and will soon be neck deep once I begin my practicum. Don't expect any image heavy posts any time soon, folks.

I've been thinking non-stop about the purpose of art education. Now that I've merged into a stream of classes with teacher candidates from other specializations, I've learned how others perceive art and how it is presumed to be assessed in a school setting. My main concern up to this point was how I will be able to teach art (in its entire complex tangible and intangible state) to my students, yet I should be concerned with how I will teach art to my colleagues.

One of the great debates this week was the validity of creativity as a method of assessment. How do we mark it? I, and many of my art education peers don't believe it should be a criteria. After a frustrating debate within a seminar the other day, I have become increasingly vexed, and set aside some assignments to try and work it out.

Oh, even an experienced educator couldn't articulate the nature of art assessment. She could only liken it to "putting a cat in a bag."

Anyway, here's what I worked out...


Creativity I believe is inherent within all people. As teachers we are meant to set up the conditions in which this type of intelligence is exemplified and encouraged. It is within this environment that I think students would be able to deviate from traditional learning expectations and take risks and explore ideas while feeling safe to do so. The staff within a school cannot solely rely on art, music, and drama classrooms to exemplify and encourage creativity. I believe creativity is an interdisciplinary practice and its abstract and organic qualities have the ability to appear in any situation regardless of discipline.

The challenge for the art teacher, much of the time, is trying to pry open the hard academic-based shells that some of these students develop and to keep it open. The majority of the core subjects have been introduced through linear and convergent learning. When I only have my students for a small fraction of the school week, it can be daunting to pull out some of that individual expression and get them to hold on to it and have them believe that it can light the way in other aspects of life. When the students leave the class they return to the monotony of the school day and this type of thinking is dulled down again. I believe it would be helpful for teachers of all departments to collaborate and find ways to make the connections necessary to stimulate divergent thinking, so that creativity simply becomes an expectation rather than an argument.

I find creativity to be extremely valuable, but I don't believe it is a legitimate category to assess a student for. I would look for specific ways of expressing how creativity can be displayed within an assignment or project, other than using this vague blanket statement. Teachers must constantly remind themselves that the arts do not have monopoly over this word either! I only speak from an art perspective because my most creative spirit is aligned with the visual arts- that has been my life long outlet. The values I have learned from art are to think for myself, to critically evaluate the world around me, and to recognize the significance my voice brings to my community and society. These are skills that I can use until the day I die, and I would imagine is true for others as well.

Creativity in relation to art has little to do with pure aesthetic beauty or representational semblance and definitely is not about conceptual negligence. It is very true that painting for instance, has its own inherent joys and materiality that cannot be replicated in other mediums or expressive forms. However, when one comes to understand the materiality fully, a conceptual framework must be created to provide structure and meaning for the work. This critical thinking is what helps students question visual information and take a moment to compare the effectiveness of a Delacroix allegorical painting to a Dan Flavin fluorescent light. Making art is based on passion and embodied knowledge, but it is also about finding purpose and function, not arbitrary reasoning. I would like to believe that teachers introduce the lessons they do in order to create purpose. Art has a purpose! Creativity, dog-gone-it has a purpose! But neither function in a vacuum. We must get past this belief that creativity is an option and be the creativity we desire to see.