An Almost Forgotten 1953 Conference on Creativity
Hausman, Jerome, Art Education
Recently, I found myself going through some old documents and 1 came upon a mimeographed volume: The Conference on Creativity: A Report the Rockefeller Foundation, edited by Manuel Barkan and Ross L. Mooney, The Ohio State University, 1953. It is over 55 years since this conference and although some references related to this gathering can be found in the art education literature, for the most part the papers included in this report have gone unnoticed.
Some time around 1950, a group of professors from Ohio State University, who represented different areas of study, engaged in informal discussions involving their shared interests about the meaning and nature of creativity. As is stated in the Report's preface, "their discussions revolved around some of the complex relationships among the social, psychological and aesthetic factors that inhered in the broad problem." Attention frequently focused on the arts as an area of experience that provided a framework from which creativity might be studied.
Marion Quin Dix, an art supervisor of the Elizabeth New Jersey public schools when I was an art teacher, and her husband, Lester Dix (then Professor, Department of Education, Brooklyn College, New York) joined Barkan, Mooney, and Harold Pepinsky (the Ohio State University) in developing and receiving a grant from the Humanities Division of the Rockefeller Foundation to convene an interdisciplinary conference centering on research into creative behavior in the arts and its educational significance. Barkan, in introducing the Conference on Creativity, set forth six propositions: (1) "creative experience, although intensified in the arts is present in many other areas of human behavior;" ( 2) creative experience provides "a way of forming experience which is basic to the organic growth of human personality,·" ( 3) creative experience "functions to form particular aspects of an individual's ideas, feelings, and attitudes so that they become an integral part of the whole stream of his living;" (4) the function of art education is to "provide opportunities for creative experience;" (5) the role of the teacher is "to create the kind of circumstances in which youth can come to grips with the ideas and feelings they want and need to embody in an organic form;" and (6) the intensity for feeling and forming which creative experience encourages " leads to a more generalized outcome, than that related to the arts as such, since it sensitizes the student to a discipline which can be used to form many other experiences in life."
The field of art education was undergoing radical transformation in the 1950s as emphasis had shifted from more limited conceptions of hand-eye coordination and education about the finer things in life to a broader grounding of art in general education and assertions about art as experience. No wonder, participants representing broad fields in social and psychological inquiry could be attracted to work with art educators in a conference emphasizing understandings needed to further and enhance creative behavior. In addition to Barkan and Mooney, three other faculty members from The Ohio State University, and 15 additional educators from other disciplines and universities, as well as The Ohio Sate University, were invited to attend the conference. In retrospect, it can be said that the group could have been strengthened by inclusion of practicing artists, art historians, and critics; alas, this is said in hindsight. Nevertheless, the assembled group was impressive. Seen from a perspective of over 50 years one cannot help but be impressed with the breadth and depth of studies projected as outcomes of the Conference. Three major directions for an understanding of creativity were identified as Social, Behavioral, and Conceptual fields.
The Social Field involved questions such as: Do children become more socially constructive when they are given opportunities for creative expression? Will delinquency decrease in neighborhoods when critical groups of children are involved in creative activity? …