Creativity: What Are We Talking About?

By Milbrandt, Melody; Milbrandt, Lanny | Art Education, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Creativity: What Are We Talking About?


Milbrandt, Melody, Milbrandt, Lanny, Art Education


In the United States, our collective definitions, perceptions, and myths about creativity have, at best, produced an uneven understanding of what it means to be a creative person. A primary goal of this article is to help clarify meanings associated with the broad term creativity and identify some observable processes associated with it Part of the problem in our current educational context is that the term creativity is so ill-defined, ambiguous, and fuzzy so that no common agreement exists on its meaning. Creativity remains an elusive concept where discussion, definitions, procedures, and expressions of the term may be regarded superficially unless broad understandings about creativity can be broken down to manageable and assessable specific operations.

Depending on the context, creativity may be presented as the brilliant spark of inspiration residing in the talented genius, an essential ingrethent of American resourcefulness and inventiveness, or a deviant personality trait manifest in unstable behavior with little social value. Our country's Constitution and protection of personal freedom laid the foundation for creative endeavors, yet one has only to watch the yearly extravaganza of Super Bowl commercials to know that the most popular public connotation and focus of creativity in this country has shifted from the expectation of thrilling innovative breakthroughs in scientific or artistic thought to the frivolity and innovation of rampant commercialism. For many in Western cultures, novelty often is sought through goods and experiences that can be purchased in marketplaces of every sort, rather than through internal thinking processes and application of creative effort. There is little evidence in the current educational system to suggest that schools teach students how to selectively discuss or use creative tliinking processes for personal or collective benefit or openly support students' sustained creative involvement.

As a result of the lack of understanding of creativity and a general agreement on meaning, research in art education has generally been dismissive of the topic for at least the latest generation of art educators (Zimmerman, 2009). In the wake of No Child Left Behind (2001) there is growing concern that the convergent, one correct answer' mentality that our educational system is encouraging in students results in an inability of students to seek, confront, and solve non-linear, divergent, open-ended problems. This unbalance in educational experiences and competencies is leaving a gap in the preparation of future citizens and leaders. In his forecast of our collective future, Darnel Pink (2006) speculates, "We've progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we're progressing yet again to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers, and meaning makers" (p. 58). Without the practice and aptitude for engaging in creative thinking, our citizenry may not be prepared to meet a world in continual flux (Liu & Noppe-Brandon, 2009).

Although it is impossible to consider all definitions or aspects of creativity, it is important to acknowledge the complexity of multiple definitions or theories to begin to construct a useful understanding. Some creative definitions and theories contradict or negate one another while others easily co-exist or overlap in practice.

As Zimmerman (2009) notes:

Researchers and practitioners need to conceive of creativity as multidimensional with consideration of how cognitive complexity, affective intensity, technical skills, and interest and motivation all play major roles, (p. 394)

Talking about creativity or making judgments about creative products might be more fruitful if we understood and used creative theories as we understand and use aesthetic theories. Art educators often have discussed merits of art based on understanding of traditional aesthetic views or artistic intentions of mimetic, expressive, instrumentalist, or formalist aesthetics. …

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