Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Creative Discipline

       For the past year, here at St. John's Episcopal School we've been immersed in the early stages of some large-scale marketing work. After the initial research, we moved into all the areas of branding, design, copy, et cetera. The process has proven fascinating, and I've learned a great deal. As part of that, I've spent extensive time talking with various "creatives." Fortunately, we've engaged incredibly talented people for this work, and I'm in awe of their work. I've also enjoyed learning about them and their work because I've been calling for more creativity in schools for quite a while. (See this or this.) It's in line with the work of people such as Tony Wagner and Sir Ken Robinson.
       One thing which has surprised me--but probably shouldn't have--is how tied to process these people are. They are, contrary to the assumption and stereotypes many people have, quite committed to certain rituals and disciplines. In fact, in the only case where we weren't pleased with some of the work we received, I realized we had basically forced the creative to operate in a way that was not his normal methodology and thus out of his comfort zone.
       I've read enough about creativity that I should have realized this basic truth. Creativity, Inc, for example, spells out in great detail the systematic process that Pixar uses. Most writers and artists have very specific work routines, whether the times they work or how they lay out materials or follow certain steps.Some of this is the sort of exacting discipline required for success in any area. Too often people forget, or perhaps never understood, that creative pursuits share a great deal with other areas. We seem to think that creative work is somehow different, that it strikes at random moments of inspiration; and that when it strikes, somehow stunning art suddenly appears.
     But in many ways creative work is not that different than any other. Just as an athlete must practice a skill over and over, a painter works on brush strokes. Just as a scientist studies all the theory in their field, a musician studies past songs from many genres. More than that, it's simply a matter of getting the work done. And a great deal of it, because the misses far outnumber the hits. Picasso produced 79 different drawings in coming up with Guernica. In fact, while we know of several famous Picasso works, his total output numbered more than 1800 paintings, 1200 sculptures, 2800 ceramics, and 12000 drawings. In music, beyond their noted compositions, Mozart composed over 600 pieces;, Beethoven, 650; Bach, over a 1000. Compare that to the number of papers of Einstein's 248 publications or patents of Edison's 1093 had real impact. So even beyond creativity, it's about persistence.
     It also affirms my belief that we can teach creativity. Or, to be more accurate, design educational experiences that nourish our innate creativity. Well, at least not tamp it down, let alone beat it out of us. There exist plenty of practical and philosophical arguments for this, and I don't need to reiterate them here.They all seem to have one underlying commonality: life as a work of art. How does that happen? Creative discipline. So perhaps as we rethink these intellectual conveniences that we call academic disciplines, we need to make creativity one of the new disciplines of future education.

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