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Can Creativity Be Learned - And Should Normal People Bother?

22/11/2016 12:23

Teachers have a strong incentive to believe in nurture - that success is made as much as born. The strange exception is creativity, where education strategists fear to tread. As a new book identifies the seven creative behaviours behind success, we need to explore how creativity can be learnt.

Study after study shows that you are more successful (in many walks of life) with at least some creativity under your belt. Employers are not interested in the subjects you study, except in what they do for your mind. The top three skills demanded for any job are communication, followed by problem-solving and creativity. Last year, Michigan State University demonstrated that elite scientists are statistically more likely to have a creative hobby, with a particularly strong likelihood amongst Nobel Prize winners. These are busy people, super-rational by definition, with a significant creative connection.

And still mistrust of creativity runs deep through a combination of linear thinking and mythmaking. In a world that appreciates a direct connection between cause and effect, people find it hard to understand how creativity works. Creativity is set apart as a quality in business and personal life. Successful creative people are accorded genius status. Creativity is widely felt to be innate, something you are born with - in fact, unknowable.

In turn, Western economies define the creative industries as 'special' or categorise them as impractical. Public debate focuses on subsidised activities such as fine arts and theatre, rather than on product and industrial design or communications. This for a sector worth over £86billion to the economy and with almost 1 in 10 jobs presently in the creative industries

It is as unhelpful to expect all creative people to be geniuses as it would be to expect it of all scientists or all engineers. Creatives may well use their right brain more than their left. Some have a higher order of intelligence than others. Some may achieve flamboyant mastery and achieve mythic status. All have their place within society and the workforce. James Dyson and Thomas Edison famously went through thousands of prototypes before their breakthroughs - where do resilience and rigour start and imagination and inspiration end?

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In their new book, The Creative Stance, leading creative figures have identified the behaviours needed for success through a series of essays and debates. These are rigour, risk, resilience, ambiguity, agency, imagination and provocation. The authors, including artist and broadcaster Grayson Perry, present evidence on these behaviours from across the creative disciplines, from industry to academia. They celebrate the creative approach in all disciplines and walks of life, and its value to society in disciplines as different as fashion design and crime prevention. This is a manifesto for creative education anywhere in the world, and a manual for those interested in the connection between effect and cause made by creative people.

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As head of an institution which has produced half of all Turner Prize winners, current Royal Academicians and winners of British Designer of the Year, you would expect me to believe that creativity can and should be nurtured. Above all, my time at UAL interacting with students, teachers and technicians has taught me how fascinating the creative process is.

But in a sense, it is the ethical dimension to creativity which should push it closer to the heart of the curriculum. Creative resistance to the status quo inevitably subjects those in power to question. This is an era in which nations are split apart by a knife-edge vote based on traditional solutions to new challenges. Our energy demands have stored up problems that are beyond science alone to resolve. Creative behaviour must be integral to the way we tackle these issues.

Creativity can be nurtured for great effect. Indeed, the future of our economy and society may rely on it. There has never been a more important time to understand the creative process and why it should become a normal part of how we teach.

The Creative Stance is available to order online from the publisher's website and is available in all good bookshops. It is co-published by Common-Editions and UAL.

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