Ms. Janet M. Starke

Creativity AND the Arts: not an “either/or”

Posted by Ms. Janet M. Starke, Feb 04, 2015 1 comment

Ms. Janet M. Starke

Creativity. The Creative Worker. Creative Problem-Solvers. The Creative Class, (as coined by Richard Florida), Creativity in the Workplace. A Google search on the word “creativity” elicits 216,000,000 listings. Many of the scholarly articles address the role of creativity in the workplace, the relationship between creativity and cognition, or how to cultivate creativity. Mention creativity, and it’s only a matter of time before the conversation turns to the debate of STEM vs. STEAM. What I have increasingly observed in both articles and conversations on creativity is that some include the arts as an integral component in cultivating creativity, while many others do not.

Americans for the Arts’ new Encourage Creativity campaign makes the arts an integral component in cultivating and nurturing creativity. And I applaud that purposeful approach to placing the arts—specifically arts education--at the center of the creativity conversation. We must be active advocates for the presence of the arts in these conversations. I worry that if business and corporate industries are left to lead the conversation, the arts (more specifically, “the verbs of art,” as Eric Booth would say) will be increasingly marginalized when, in fact, they should serve as the case statements for how arts education is not an option, but rather an essential part of the education of the whole child.

In 2012, Merck’s Executive Vice President, Mirian Graddick-Weir, published an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled How to Educate Creative Problem-Solvers. It’s no surprise given her line of business that she talks about science education and technology. She references “science” or “scientific” a total of 22 times. Mention of the “arts,” “artistic,” or “artistry”? Zero. She introduces the concept of “integrative thinking”; however, her case is the antithesis to integrative. While she does suggest the need for “strong science teaching in all subject areas,” she also suggests that “science is the foundation for language, logic, and problem-solving skills.” Nothing really integrated there. A seeming missed opportunity for the arts (not to mention several other subjects).

There is certainly evidence that some executives value the role of the arts in creativity. A 2012 blogpost by Elysabeth Alfano speaks to five executives who believe that exposure to or engagement in the arts promotes more creative-thinking. The article even recognizes organizations who are partnering companies with artists to guide the development of creativity “muscles”. Like anything else, those muscles can atrophy when not fully utilized. I would further argue that practicing artists should play an essential role in this pedagogy, working alongside (other) business professionals.

There are a couple outstanding institutions/organizations who, in my opinion, are doing their best to recognize the power of the arts in the cultivation of creativity, including Creative Oklahoma (whose founding advisor is Sir Ken Robinson) who works to develop a statewide strategic framework for advancing creativity and innovation in the cross-sectors of education, commerce, and culture. One initiative, the ArtScience Prize, brings together high school art and science students who work together through a creative problem-solving process. Another is Stanford University, who will launch a new Arts Initiative in 2016, as part of their Arts Institute. This initiative will (perhaps radically) position the arts as the through-line, transcending learning and application of learning in all areas, making it the essential ingredient in creativity and life. Bravo!

And so again, I applaud Americans for the Arts’ new Encourage Creativity campaign, and their efforts to keep the arts and arts education at the center of the conversation. I, for one, have already outlined a plan for utilizing these tools in my community. It begins with sharing with my school system and arts council peers, among others, so that together, we can take this opportunity to place arts education at the heart of community efforts to cultivate creativity and otherwise prepare the future workforce.

“The arts can help us break out of traditional patterns of thinking and adopt fresh approaches to intellectual experiences. Discontinuous innovations require novel thinking and breakthroughs in how a particular problem or challenge is approached. I believe the arts offer an expanded tool set for learning and understanding that can enhance creative thinking skills.” -- John Hennessy, President, Stanford University

As Americans for the Arts has said, Encourage Creativity. Teach the Arts.

To watch our new suite of videos that can help you Encourage Creativity in your community, check out the new webpage on Americans for the Arts' dedicated to these new resources, and stay tuned for blogs from the students featured in the videos here on ARTSBlog the week of Feb. 16 - 20.

1 responses for Creativity AND the Arts: not an “either/or”


Carter Gillies says
February 08, 2015 at 9:07 am

One issue I see is that most of our descriptions of the arts focus on the instrumental value of art and arts practice. The difficulty is that by treating art as a means to an end you allow that the end takes priority over the means and that different means are equally and sometime better able to achieve them. No wonder science supporters use the same tactics at the expense of art. Science does all of these creative things, and occasionally it does them even better. If art is only worth doing/promoting for the instrumental value of encouraging creativity and innovation (etc.), then clearly it is only one possible option and has to prove itself all over against competing options. If you argue on extrinsic grounds like this the best you can hope for is that nay sayers will come to believe the arts are an important means to important ends, but you will never get them to believe that the arts are an important end in themselves.....

My fear is that we have traded out the intrinsic value of the arts for only its extrinsic rewards, and that leaves us in the position where art is only one tool among many to solve a particular problem. If its just a tool, one tool is often as good as another. If solving the problem is what's important then the means of solving it are not just less important but important only so far as they work, and people are justified in having their own 'tool' preferences. You like art? I like science? Who wins?

In today's world science does not need to prove itself. Its obvious in daily life how important technology is. That case has been made, and no one really needs to argue for it. Science is not just a tool but a good in itself. Ask anyone whether it would make sense to live in a world without science and its hard to imagine a response that didn't recoil at the thought. But ask an ordinary person if they could live in a world without art and the responses might become less convincing.

And the reason as I see it is that we have not done as good a job of arguing the intrinsic value of the arts, that this is how we define ourselves and that this is how we express ourselves. Art isn't just something we do to be more creative and more innovative, its who we are as human beings. Forget the lofty stuff in museums and concert halls, art is what we do when we tell a child a story to put them to bed. Its what we do when we cook a meal from scratch. Its what we do any time we exercise our aesthetic judgment to discriminate between things, to see beauty in the world. And if you can't make that case the arts will never be respected and facilitated the way that something like science is....

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