Creativity is often referred to as means of ‘unlocking potential’. There’s a sense that it’s something of the future, a store of source of energy in reserve. It’s a always a lot – we don’t refer to unlocking someone’s low level of potential – but we think too that once unlocked, it will have significant, positive consequences for the individual and wider society. It is by definition, unexpressed, a ‘good thing’ and unlockable.
Frustration with children may come from adults who sense a child has ‘potential’ which is not being made visible, or expressed despite their best efforts to release it. Teachers, parents and the wider family all stare at the unfortunate kid, frustrated in their attempts to ‘unlock her potential’.. If we only could unlock it, she would perform better and we’d all be happy.
On a larger scale, we’re faced with hoards of young people across the country whose potential is locked up – and so the argument goes, if we develop their creativity and enhance their cultural education then their potential will be unlocked released and possibly fulfilled. So, just what is this magical elixir, ‘potential?’
An acorn might have the potential to become an oak tree with the right conditions – do we have our morphology lying in wait for us, planned out from the blueprint of the embryo? If so, this ‘potential’ is of quite a limited kind – the acorn has no potential for becoming an elm tree. So is potential a kind of destiny / fate – and if so, is the educators job to help us accept our fate? By providing the conditions for us to develop along a genetically preordained route? Or is there role for educators to identify and provide other routes for development? Despite providing the right conditions, the acorn may not grow – or it may start and stop at 60’ or 160’ – it’s still an oak tree – and where its stopped, has it reached its potential? And is that the time for us to walk away and leave it alone?
Is there something about the self here and how we use and view our bodies and minds? On the one hand our bodies and minds are being encouraged, our potentials exhorted and our feeble bodies being pushed to excel. Once we’re able to merge our flesh and bone with the silicon and software of computers we’ll really be able to live our potentials out and exert all our powers – and become like supermen to deal with the voracious capitalist economic appetite (Oh come on, Jones, do keep up can’t you!). In one sense the 100 Languages of Creativity are the means to becoming supermen and superwomen – enhanced versions of our feeble bodies and feeble minds (which are facets of a culture of feebleness).
Potential is also synonymous with ‘unique capacities ‘ and is also used to suggest internal reserves which are untapped / neglected – much like oil wells or gold mines. So tapping potential, in this sense, means exploiting the resources of human – cf exploiting the resources of the plane – and so here, the self has become the site for capitalist economic endeavour. Given that the education of the 19th century was useful for the industries of that time – now, in a new economic context, new skills and approaches are needed for the new industries – so instead of exploiting the planet since the onset of the industrial revolution, we’re now being urged to exploit the self for the purposes of economic deliverance of the 21st Century’s economic revolution.
So, in exhorting us to stop being feeble, and unleash our capacity to become superhuman, the calls for creativity aim to exploit the feeble self for its untapped power, energy and resources. Simultaneously despising the self, we secretly covet what it could yield up to us. We become both Jim Carrey and his observers in our very own Truman Show.