Wednesday, March 23

Ken Robinson 'Out of our Minds' book on creativity

I bought this book because I had vaguely heard of Robinson and it has some big-name reviewers too: Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (and bizarrely, John Cleese!)  It turned out to be a great buy - inspiring, easy to read, and very relevant.

Creativity is a funny old thing, with ideas tending to fall into two categories.  Psychology literature on the subject (which usually refers to it by the dry pseudonym of divergent thinking) is very narrow, focusing on problem-solving and on generating solutions to specific tasks - partly due to a lack of reliable ways of conducting creativity research.

Then, in the world of the arts, creativity is such a widely used term, but nobody seems too sure about what exactly it is or how it functions.  Are they even talking about the same thing?  Of course, there is a lot of really good advice for artists which no doubt works, but nobody really knows how.  My OU coursebook on creative writing has a short section on idea generation at the start, which is full of references to discredited psychological concepts (mostly Freudian).  Quickly, and with a certain relief all round, things move on to the craft of writing.

Robinson does a good job of bridging the gap, with a scientific take on creativity which is very much rooted in the real world.  He cuts through the waffle and tries to get at a simple clear definition of creativity.  Imaging, he says, is when we form a mental image of something - real or otherwise.  This is a basic step towards imagining, which is when we make a new image, putting together other images to think of something new.

For Robinson, though, imagining/imagination is a step short of creativity, because creativity implies that the imagination has a use of some sort in a real-world context.

Another great passage in the book is where he questions that validity of the current trend towards science and technology has very little validity - the assumption that these subjects are better than arts subjects is both narrow minded and unclear.  If people are to fulfill their potential and be successful, they need to harness all of their abilities, including artistic abilities and creativity.  He says:

If there were no more to human intelligence that academic ability, most of human culture would not have happened.  There would be no practical science or technology, no business, no arts, no music, no dance, drama, architecture, design, cuisine, aesthetics, feelings, relationships, emotions or love.  I think these are large factors to leave out of the account of intelligence.  If all you had was academic ability, you wouldn't have been able to get out of bed this morning. 

As a teacher, I couldn't agree more.

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