Creativity in Crisis?

By Helding, Lynn | Journal of Singing, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview
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Creativity in Crisis?

Helding, Lynn, Journal of Singing

HARDLY HAD THE CLOSING STRAINS of "Auld lang syne" echoed off the Wasatch range at the 51st national NATS conference in Salt Lake City last July, than this urgent cover story appeared in Newsweek magazine:

The Creativity Crisis: For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong-and how we can fix it.1

The cover itself was comprised of an American flag made of broken red, white, and blue crayons. These iconic symbols of childhood signaled the real focus population of the article, while the title, "Creativity in America," promised to reveal "the science of innovation" and "how to re-ignite our imaginations."2 Alas, the article was less about creativity itself and more about testing for creativity (via the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking), and a perceived lack of it among children. As a rule, I read all screeds decrying kids these days with a skeptical eye, but this caught my attention:

With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect-each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.3

According to the authors, a Flynn effect could also be seen regarding creativity until 1990, when a precipitous drop in the creativity quotient (CQ) was noted. According to a leading researcher in the field, "It is the scores of younger children in America-from kindergarten through sixth grade-for whom the decline is most serious."4

Why the decline? The usual guilty culprits were trotted out: too much TV, too many videogames, and the current assessment culture in American education ("teaching to the test"). Predictable, too, was that Bronson and Merryman's deliberately provocative article should spark critics, who simultaneously touted the creative benefits of digital technology, while ridiculing the very idea that an attribute as ethereal as creativity could actually be tested; after all, the article was about the decline in creativity scores, not creativity itself. The authors' suggestion that the "crisis" can be averted by teaching creativity in the classroom drew this outright guffaw:

What's the [authors'] recommendation for boosting America's impending underperformance? Why, put creativity classes in school curricula! . . . The same public schools producing students who underperform on standardized tests in math, science, writing and reading comprehension should be performing CPR-Creative Process Recovery-on America's schoolchildren? That doesn't even rise to the level of nonsense. . . . Please. America will truly have a "creativity crisis" when "creativity" becomes a required high school course.5

Considering how much attention this article has garnered, both for the authors and for the subject itself, "creativity" seems a subject worth considering for those of us who teach anything, but most especially for those of us engaged in the performing arts, an endeavor historically yoked to "creativity."


It is important to begin by considering creativity as a bona fide field of scientific research. I myself have often dismissed "creativity" as a topic, simply because it seems all too familiar. Whether as a performing artist or village dweller, through direct engagement or exposure to the ubiquitous craft fairs and street festivals that attend the manufactured quaintness of the historic town in which I live, I feel fairly steeped in creativity. My earlier stint as the parent of two small children was a creative enterprise in itself, and that's not even counting the invention of car games, sewing of Halloween costumes, and hot-gluing of science fair projects on the dining room table. For many, the word "creativity" conjures up something homey and familiar, like doing crafts on a rainy afternoon. So it may be enlightening to learn that the serious study of creativity as a subject was itself a creative act, a linking of creativity with research "after centuries of being apart.

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