Reconceptualizing the Role of Creativity in Art Education Theory and Practice

By Zimmerman, Enid | Studies in Art Education, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Reconceptualizing the Role of Creativity in Art Education Theory and Practice


Zimmerman, Enid, Studies in Art Education


Reconceptualizing contemporary notions about creativity in visual arts education should be an important issue in art education today. Currently, creativity may not be a primary focus at National Art Education Association conferences or in its publications. There are recent indications that art education is a site where creativity can be developed and nurtured for all students with emphasis on both individual processes and cultural practices. It is advocated that through critical analysis of concepts related to art education and creativity that research and practice can be developed to cultivate creative education for all art students. Topics discussed in this article, related to reconsidering creativity, include the history of creativity in art education, definitions of creativity, assessment of creative processes, dispositional factors and creative individuals, cultural variability and creativity, and educational interventions that promote student creativity.

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. …

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