Creation vs. Creativity vs. The Creative Habit (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen, Sep 14, 2011 3 comments

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

I want to add to Mark and Eric’s sentiments that we need to be careful about the claims of arts education teaching the 4 Cs (critical thinking & problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity & innovation).

When claiming this monopoly on creativity, I think we need to refine our message.

So, here I offer a distinction about creation vs. creativity vs. the creative habit, and some research you can use to back up this advocacy message.

The Arts Standards
First, if you want some specific examples of how the arts teach creativity, look to your state standards. The California standards have an entire strand dedicated to creative expression, but you’ll notice that the word “creativity” does not appear. Rather it is words like “problem solving,” “motivation,” and “originality.” Being more specific in our message will help others understand what it is that we do.

Here are some more nuances to this message:

Creativity Correlation
In Robert Root-Bernstein’s work, “Arts Foster Scientific Success,” he shows that engaging in arts was a good predictor of future innovation for Nobel laureates. He then discusses the “tools for thinking” (empathizing, pattern recognition, and synthesizing) that enable these scientists to have innovative breakthroughs.

Studio Thinking
In their book, Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, authors Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner discuss how arts can promote eight habits of mind. Six of the habits align very well with the 4 C’s:

1.    Engage & Persist - Learning to embrace problems of relevance, to develop focus and other mental states conducive to working and persevering.
2.    Envision - Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps.
3.    Express - Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning.
4.    Observe - Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary "looking" requires, and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.
5.    Reflect - Learning to think and talk with others about an aspect of one’s work or working process. Learning to judge one’s own work and working process and the work of others in relation to standards of the field.
6.    Stretch & Explore - Learning to reach beyond one's capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes and accidents.

The Creative Habit
The two studies above mention more the thinking skills associated with creation. Twyla Tharp, a choreographer with an illustrious career, discusses how these thinking skills or as she calls it, The Creative Habit, encourages creativity. Below is an excerpt from her book:

"Being creative is not a once-in-a-while sort of thing.  Being creative is an everyday thing, a job with its own routines. That’s why writers, for example, like to establish a routine for themselves…They might set a goal—1,500 words or stay at their desk until noon—but the real secret is that they do this every day. They do not waver. After a while it becomes a habit.

This is no different for any creative individual whether it’s a painter finding his way to the easel or a medical researcher returning to the laboratory. The routine is a much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration (perhaps more). And it is available to everyone. If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is a result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming."

The arts have naturally embedded in their own process creation, which to me is one of the most magical aspects to me about the arts—the creation of something new that never existed in the world, until you made it such.

But creation doesn’t equate creativity. However, as the above authors argue, the process of creation can develop excellent work habits that lead to innovation.

Creativity is more about the habit of engaging in creation, imagination, and reflection. Over and over and over again. This is an excellent argument for a sustained, sequential arts education.

*Arts Watch is the bi-weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts, covering news in a variety of categories. Subscribe to Arts Watch or follow @artswatch on Twitter to receive up-to-the-minute news.

3 responses for Creation vs. Creativity vs. The Creative Habit (from Arts Watch)


September 16, 2011 at 11:57 am

So true! And let's be clear - the arts teach creativity. My SNAAP colleagues, Steven Tepper and George Kuh, recently published a terrific piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Let’s Get Serious About Creativity!”

As they say, “Creativity is not a mysterious quality… Rather, creativity is cultivated through rigorous training and by deliberately practicing certain core abilities and skills over an extended period of time.”

What are some of these core skills that rigorous training in the arts can cultivate? They list seven:
1. the ability to approach problems in nonroutine ways using analogy and metaphor;
2. conditional or abductive reasoning (posing "what if" propositions and reframing problems);
3. keen observation and the ability to see new and unexpected patterns;
4. the ability to risk failure by taking initiative in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty;
5. the ability to heed critical feedback to revise and improve an idea;
6. a capacity to bring people, power, and resources together to implement novel ideas; and
7. the expressive agility required to draw on multiple means (visual, oral, written, media-related) to communicate novel ideas to others.

Finally, they quote a Teagle Foundation study done by the Curb Center at Vanderbilt. The findings help us distinguish learning in the arts from other fields, as follows:

--53 percent of arts majors say that ambiguity is a routine part of their coursework. Only 9 percent of biology majors say that, 13 percent of economics and business majors, 10 percent of engineering majors, and 7 percent of physical-science majors.

--4/5 of arts students say that expressing creativity is typically required in their courses, compared with only 3 percent of biology majors, 16 percent of economics and business majors, 13 percent of
engineers, and 10 percent of physical-science majors.

Great stuff for arts education advocates.

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Kristen Engebretsen says
September 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Thanks for adding some concrete examples. This descriptive language is needed to clarify what we mean when we talk about creativity.

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September 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Kristen has done a great job elaborating about the building blocks and distinctions between creating and creativity. This is the type of conversation we ought to have about the specific elements of quality in arts learning. I think Steve Seidel as contributed a lot on this in "The Qualities of Quality." Our advocacy work tends to attribute benefits from the generic idea of "the arts" or "arts education." In fact, we should say something like "when done really well, arts programs can help students cultivate these skills and habits of mind...."

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