Get Creative or Else.

Via on Feb 16, 2011

Our complex world is struggling under the weight of disease, war, Global Warming, poverty, hunger, and vanishing resources. We expect the world’s population of approximately 6 billion to become 12 billion by 2054 if the current rate of growth continues. A great deal of creativity will be required to respond to these challenges. We need citizens with big ideas here.

The potential consequences of a decline in American creativity are far-reaching. According to Newsweek, the necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed.

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others. -Bronson and Merryman, The Creativity Crisis

Divorced from the formative and developmental experience of creativity as a part of everyday life, children are losing the ability to create. US creativity scores have been falling since 1990, and children from kindergarten through sixth grade exhibit the most serious decline.

Although most young children are very creative, it is estimated that creativity diminishes by 40% between the ages of 5 and 7. At these ages, formal schooling begins, and there is some agreement that education inhibits the transformation of early talent into adult creativity. It may be that schooling emphasizes logical rather than divergent thinking, or that schools and families value conventional behavior, well-defined problems, and good grades.-Sandra Kerka, Creativity in Adulthood

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, implemented in 2001, was designed as an education reform movement dependent on high standards, and measurable goals in core curriculum areas. Even though the arts are a designated subject of this core curriculum, it has been reported that since 2007, almost 71% of schools have reduced instruction time in subjects such as history, arts, language, and music due to NCLB’s greater emphasis on reading and math.

Creativity has slipped as a priority in our homes as well. Television, technology, and video games have replaced engagement in the creative process.  On average, children spend as much as 7 hours, 38 minutes a day in front of a screen, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year.

At Clementine Studio, the evidence was clear. Young children approached tables laden with colorful art supplies begging to be transformed, and inevitably started their work by asking, “What am I supposed to do here?”  It didn’t take long to discover that modern children require a well-defined program of support in order to reconnect with their innate ability to think in original ways.

A Culture of Correctness

What’s the problem with logical thinking, conventional behavior, and good grades – outcomes that have long been heralded as the pinnacles of educational purpose, and the goal of mainstream schools?  Unfortunately, the emphasis placed on the importance of ‘one right answer’ is often at odds with creative development and original thinking.

American children are heartily rewarded for following the rules. At home, school, and in sports and social settings, a child who strives to do things right is a parent’s joy. Standardized tests have right answers, sports teams, community activities have well-defined norms and rules, and peer pressure is strong to have the ‘right’ clothes, hairstyles and friends.

Mistakes are often undervalued. At Clementine Studio, I regularly witnessed the evidence — young children dissolving in puddles of frustration because they weren’t able to make something ‘righton the first try. Engagement in the creative process requires confidence, tenacity, flexibility, and follow-through — all processes that gain momentum when children are challenged by a mistake.

This unique combination of factors (emphasis on correctness, and reluctance to make mistakes) helps create children who avoid taking creative risks. Of almost 38 million children enrolled in US elementary schools today, more than 66% of these children like to make art.  Unfortunately, only 30% of children think they are good at it. This widespread insecurity leads children to abandon their creative aspirations. A perfect score on a test, a flawlessly executed piano piece, or a realistically drawn horse are valued markers of achievement at home and at school, causing young children to distance themselves from the uncertainty (and messiness) of creative, and original self-expression.

The natural state of childhood is open, inquisitive, fearless, and creative. It isn’t until judgment, comparison, and the concept of correctness enter the conversation that children begin to shut down creatively, with often-irreparable damage done to any existing creative confidence and willingness to take risks.

Children, Watch Them

Here’s my dirty little secret: I don’t think of myself as a creative person. That I have spent my life as a creativity junkie, fixated on art and self-expression, makes little sense. During my double decade drive on the creativity expressway, it has been widely assumed by people I meet that I am also an artist; perhaps a painter, potter, or musician whose vibrant skills explain why in the world I am so infatuated with the idea of creativity. With amazing regularity, I hear the lament; “You must be one of those lucky creative types…It’s a shame only some people are born like that…I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

There is a name for that lucky creative type – the  “Big C creative.”  The “Big C creative” moniker is reserved for those extraordinary creative minds among us who have made a profound impact on life and culture; people like Picasso, The Wright Brothers, and Steve Jobs whose profound and far-reaching creative vision knocks our collective socks off.

Alas, I’m not that person. I’m a creative wannabe. I’m drawn to observe the process of children’s art for many reasons, not least that it infuses me with a glimpse into the workings of the authentically open, fresh, and developing mind. Working with children as models for the creative process helps me to understand that I (indeed anyone) can pick up some of the seemingly effortless, creative dash of children.

The “little c creative” type is more my style – the type of person who shows creative ability through problem-solving (stretching a very tight budget), innovation (making modeling dough from spinach when the chemicals in regular clay grossed me out) and self-expression (making up songs in the shower) – “Little c creative” potential is present and available in all of us.

Over the years I have developed certain know-how on the subject of children’s creativity and why it is so staggeringly important. I preach from my Clementine Art bully pulpit every day: practice creativity or else! So why have I gotten so tangled up in my own creative process? Why are so many potentially creative souls tangled up in theirs? The answer has many parts, and applies to everyone who has declared herself lacking creative bones.

Find Your Voice

Since children are developmentally limited to a worldview that puts the self on center stage, it’s not surprising that children know what they want, and will try many different approaches until they’ve discovered the most satisfying way to say it.

When is the last time you put your self in the spotlight with an invitation to express yourself creatively?

Fearlessness

The creative process takes courage. It takes guts to form a vision and see it through. Children haven’t yet developed the self-consciousness that comes from a critical eye. Their innocence starts with simple clear seeing, and goes from there. Their vision is then grounded in the fresh, unspoiled interpretation of what is in front of them, unhampered by fear of the outcome.

Confidence

It takes resilience not to judge yourself a total disaster after you make your first mark. By watching children, I always learn something about the childlike state of mind that goes something like this; what I’ve done is good enough to tape on the refrigerator. I don’t even notice, or care that the picture of my dog looks exactly like my picture of my dad, with extra legs.

Divergent Thinking

As an 8 year old in the early 70’s, I waited impatiently in the car one morning while my mother stopped into the grocery store. I was itching to have a friend over, but couldn’t contact her. Wouldn’t it be great if there were phones in cars, I thought?

Big deal, you might say. Not exactly an earth-shattering idea.

It takes vision and simple problem solving to address our global, creative needs. Children begin with  dreams of sending cardboard box rockets to the moon. We’ve all had a simple, childish ideas that could have changed the world.

The problem comes when we stop dreaming, questioning, inventing. Just think what any of us could have come up with if given the encouragement and tools to form, develop, and follow-through on our biggest and best ideas – from the cardboard box rocket, to who knows…a cure for cancer?

I believe every soul has the potential for creativity, and every human life can be made richer by engaging in the creative process. The creative spirit only needs to be approached with respect, and a sense of possibility.

Check out these child inventors on Ellen and celebrate the everyday diversity of ideas.

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About Diana Mercer

I've been delighting in and learning from children for almost 20 years as a teacher, and former owner of Clementine Studio: Art Space for Children. I love to watch a child's spirit emerge and develop through the process of art. I'm also a big fan of stilling my mind with yoga, meditation, and the art of mindfulness, cooking up a fresh, local and organic dinner from the Farmer's Market, making sweet music with my friends, and baking fancy birthday cakes.

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5 Responses to “Get Creative or Else.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Diana Mercer, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Practice Creativity or Else. http://bit.ly/eOKSrM [...]

  2. Yogini5 says:

    As a "little c" creative person, too … I get a lot of flak from others who understand neither the process nor the product involved. Stringing elements from disparate sources and influences … getting them to work together and putting forth some thing where there once had been nothing quite like that before … It doesn't have to be monumental, and it could be just utilitarian. But the net effect is that your everyday life goes just a little bit better than before …

    • Diana says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Engaging in the process of creating something just makes everything a little richer, I find. Sounds like you do too.

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