When Is Creativity?

By Jaquith, Diane B. | Art Education, January 2011 | Go to article overview

When Is Creativity?


Jaquith, Diane B., Art Education


Intrinsic Motivation and Autonomy in Children's Artmaking

Not once in 6 years did Robert ever enter the art room emptyhanded. A collector of recycled materials, he always arrived for class with a fresh box full of bottle caps, skinny and thick cardboard tubes, film canisters, coffee cans, and the like. He maintained a small storage area on the shelves and shared his bounty with classmates. The biggest excitement came in 5th grade when he reappeared from summer vacation with a squeaky clean bicycle chain. This drew admiration from every child in the class and it was lovingly handled and played with throughout the year. Although nothing was permanently constructed with that chain, it served as a catalyst for the children's creative thinking about what ifs and why nots. Robert is a three-dimensional thinker who finds two-dimensional artmaking tedious and uninteresting. He has always preferred to construct and over the years he has become highly skilled and reflective about his work. Big Evil Monster, a sculpture by Robert and his friend, is the result of intrinsic motivation to creatively find and solve an artistic problem (Figure 1 ).

The tide of this article borrows loosely from the philosopher Nelson Goodman ( 1977), whose classic essay "When is Art" addresses context and symbolic function. The discussion here concerns an entirely different matter: identifying moments when a learner's creativity is sparked in school art programs. The word creativity usually enters conversations with students, teachers, parents, and administrators as a generic term for children's overall artistic output. Now school systems are rapidly incorporating 21st-century skills into their curricula, including creativity skills. In order to implement these skills in classrooms, teachers need to know what is and what is not creative work. Recently I was invited to an administrative meeting where curriculum coordinators were asked to develop definitions for inquiry, critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborative problem-solving, and connections. Confident with defining most of these skills, administrators struggled with an explanation for creativity that would be equally effective for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), English language arts, visual art, and music. Zimmerman (2009) notes that school leaders face a dilemma with definitions for creativity; this reflects the controversy among scholars regarding universal definitions and attributes (Sternberg & Lubart, 2008). Others debate whether children's work can be considered creative or if creativity is reserved exclusively for adults who make practical contributions to their field. Nickerson (1999), Rostan (2006), and Zimmerman (2009) support the notion that creativity is not limited exclusively to adults; in education, ideas that are novel to a learner can be considered creative. To facilitate for this, art teachers will need to develop strategies to enhance creative thinking and creative artmaking.

Intrinsic Motivation Activates Creativity

Intrinsic motivation should be at the forefront of any conversations about creativity in schools. Research shows that intrinsic motivators such as personal interest and curiosity are closely correlated with creativity (Amabile, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi, 2008; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007; Runco, 2007). Amabüe's explanation of intrinsic motivation states:

We define as intrinsic any motivation that arises from the individual's positive reaction to qualities of the task itself: this reaction can be experienced as interest, involvement, curiosity, satisfaction, or positive challenge, (p. 115)

Intrinsic motivation and student interest are central to creative problem finding and solving. In learning environments where self-directed learning and ambiguity are the norm, learners challenge themselves to take risks. The following list highlights some intrinsic motivators:

* Content has personal relevancy

* Preference for and enjoyment of certain art media

* Curiosity

* Divergent thinking through play

* Satisfying a need by making a purposeful object for play or for a gift

* Collaboration or proximity to others with similar interests

* Work that is challenging and personally rewarding

While preparing for Big Evil Monster, three personally relevant concepts fueled intrinsic task motivation for the artists: environmental, through the use of recycled materials; social, through collaborative work; and cultural, using a Chinese dragon puppet as inspiration. …

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