Often when I tell people I am an art educator an immediate response is, "Oh, you deal with the creative part of schooling." I expect that in the minds of the general public, and in the field of general education, studying the visual arts is synonymous with creativity and is the place where creativity should be located in public schools. What is also conjured up is a vision of students having a grand time creatively expressing themselves by playing with a variety of media.
It appears that the general public places value on the role of creativity in contemporary education. In the April 2008 issue of the NAEA News, a headline, "National Poll Reveals Need for Creativity, Imagination in Public School Curriculum," caught my attention. Results from a national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, supported by Arts Education Partnership research, demonstrated that:
Americans are concerned that we are falling behind as a nation and that imagination, innovation, and creativity have been the foundation that moved the United States into a world leadership role ... To maintain our competitive edge, we need to balance instruction, encouraging our children to be creative and develop their imaginations, (p. 7)
In this survey, those polled felt that the United States devotes less time than other nations to developing creative and innovative skills and parents thought that creative skills could be taught with an outcome of helping students lead successful lives.1 How do art educators and those closely associated with art education value the place of creativity in present-day visual arts education?
NAEA Convention and Publications
The 2008 National Art Education Association (NAEA) annual convention is a good place to begin exploring how creativity is viewed in the field of art education today. The theme of this convention was "Innovations in Teaching, Learning, and Leading." A dozen of the 117 exhibitors' booths, where art materials and resources were sold and distributed at this convention, advertised creativity as being an integral part of their programs, resources, or media. Emphasis in the main, but not exclusively, was on inherent creative possibilities of media and programs and developing student creativity. Examples ranged from topics such as "renewing the creative spirit" by having art teachers participate in media workshops; using high quality art supplies for achieving "a world of imagination," "celebrating creativity" by building student self-esteem through promoting student artwork for parents to purchase; "creativity express" where making animated movies and games help "develop creative kids;" and books promoting "visual literacy" by developing students' skills of "observation, reflection, and creation."
In the 1023 sessions at the NAEA convention, there were 16 sessions in which the concept of creativity in art education was mentioned in either the title of a presentation or its description in the convention program book.2 These sessions could be found across many divisions, workshops, and affiliates with a notable exception of creativity not being mentioned in any of the titles or program descriptions of the 58 research sessions. The 16 sessions focused on creativity from many different perspectives. Of these, three sessions (Curriculum and Instruction, Middle Level, and a Secondary divisions) sessions included integrating creativity with other subjects to produce "creative results." Creativity and its role in healing and teaching special populations was the topic of three sessions (one in the Museum division and two in Issues Group: Special Needs). In a fourth session (Curriculum and Instruction), going "beyond creativity and empathy" to teaching art disciplines to special student populations was advocated. Creative strategies were presented in two sessions (both in the Museum division) as a means for experimentation, producing best practices, and developing leadership in museum settings. …