The recent contemporary educational push for all-things-creative has been a significant element in the development of a pedagogy for creativity in England for many years: what is a Creative School, a Creative Classroom, a Creative Teacher, a Creative Parent and of course, most importantly, a Creative Child has all come to the fore in recent times.
This generous, all-embracing view of creativity being all things to all people – a form of ‘molecular’ or M-creativity complements the H (Historical), P (Personal) and ‘little’-c tags of creativity favoured by Margaret Boden and Anna Craft.
David Aspin forewarned us of this tendency to glorify abstractions in his writings on ‘quality’; referring to how a term becomes ‘protean’ – both formed and formless, meaningful and meaningless – once it becomes part of the language armoury of educational policy makers and administrators.
Whilst Aspin contributed to the first public manifestation of Ken Robinson’s work by participating in the writing of the Gulbenkian’s The Arts in Schools (1982) report, he did not at the time foresee the marked change of trajectory that Robinson would take between 1982 and 1999 in his strategy to re-configure arts and cultural education in schools.
From initially arguing for a repositioning of arts education in schools as being essential to contributing to a holistic, humanistic education, Robinson eventually found himself arguing for a programme which, in marginalising the artist in preference to the more amorphous ‘creative’, was purposefully designed to appeal to government ministers who, whilst keen to maintain the momentum of their late 90s educational policies and the sheen of New Labour radicalism, were also anxious not to be seen to be caving into a small articulate arts lobby who had an assortment of axes to grind.
So the profession of the ‘creative’ was legitimised and the search for the holy grail of economic prosperity with the amulet of creativity reinvigorated.
Re- imagining the Artist Teacher and Teacher Artist
This legitimisation might have been predicted from the work of John Myerscough in The Economic Importance of the Arts in Great Britain when he prepared the ground for the possibility of the identity transition from ‘artist’ to ‘creative’. His work led many arts organisations and the public arts funding sector as a whole to steering – sometimes reluctantly and sometimes not – a path away from valuing and proclaiming the artistic or aesthetic merits of their craft and processes to valorising and promoting the economic benefit of their practices and products.
This transition from artist to creative is perhaps an inevitable coda to this structural realignment of the industry of arts to arts business and is also foreshadowed by Friedrich Tonnies (no relation to Fernando Torres) in his analysis of ‘natural will’ (Wesenwille) and ‘rationale will’ (Kurwille).
Tonnies (or perhaps it was Torres? When he wasn’t scoring for Chelsea) argues that these two forms of complementary, oppositional and inter-related human will shape human relations and bring about two forms of human social organisation – Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. He propose that ‘Kurwille’ can be broken into three forms – forethought (deliberation), arbitrary choice (free will, choosing what ever you please) and conceptual thought – which are echoed 100 years later in contemporary definitions of creativity which Sterne summarises as ‘Agency, originality and value’.
So if the expression of Kurwille leads to a human social bond marked by characteristics of Gesellschaft then might there be an alternative definition of creativity which alludes to Wesenwille and with it the (re)generation of human social bonds as exemplified in Tonnies’ Gemeinschaft?
Testing the Untestable? 5 Tests for Useless Creativity
Or to put into the terms that NACCCE presented in All Our Futures, if creativity can be defined as “Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value” – and if this definition derives from a society characterised by ‘Gesellschaft and Kurwille’ then can we fashion a definition of creativity which is characterised by ‘Gemeinschaft and WesenWille?
That is, activity in which there are either no ‘outcomes’ or any ‘outcomes’ there are:
are not imaginative
and / or produce nothing
and / or are not original
and / or of no ‘value’?
Can it be possible to be creative within this framework? And if it was, what might we see as a result of this kind of creativity?
I suggest that some tests which might come close to answering these questions would involve the following exercises:
1. Write out 100 times ‘I must not be creative’ in the most boring way possible.
2. Give a group a flat pack box from (say) IKEA for a simple construction such as a book case. Ask them to make something completely useless from all its parts.
3. Produce something beautiful from a box of junk by random actions alone. For example, using the toss of a coin or dice to make decisions.
4. Either individually or in a group, try and produce nothing – just be – for a 15 minute stretch.
5. With a small selection of musical instruments, cause audio mayhem for 5 minutes. Listen and report back on anything beautiful and mysterious that you may have experienced.
We would then look at what the outcomes – opinions, artifacts, feelings etc – of the tests and see whether we could spot the elusive butterfly of a creativity borne of ‘gemeinschaft’.
Test 1 looks at the possibility of being creative without being original.
Test 2 looks at the possibility of being creative without producing anything (this could be a lot of fun given the stress these flat packs seem to cause the entire population. Plus it would be fun to reconfigure IKEA materials which seem to scream at us to ‘make something useful out of me!’
Test 3 looks at the possibility of being creative through reduced personal agency, and more out of randomness (a mini version of the Big Bang possibly – the greatest creative event ever).
Test 4 looks at the possibility of being creative through a process of just ‘being’ and not ‘producing’.
Test 5 looks at the possibility of being creative through finding beauty in chaos – relying on music as opposed to out-and-out anarchy (although out-and-out anarchy might be better TV!)
The Next Steps in this search for an alternative take on the C Word
As suggested above, contemporary creativity discourses are driven predominantly by agendas stemming from the pressures of performativity: ‘good’ behaviours, strategies marked by managerialism, a tick box accountability, the reification of the number which bring about the ‘terror’ of mainstream schooling. Performativity pressures are the consequence of schools operating within a culture characterised by gesellschaft, as opposed to gemeinschaft – – where human values are marked by contract as opposed to communion.
Creativity is one more discourse which is infected by the virus of performativity and if we are not to succeed in exploiting the human spirit (the way we have exploited the planet and prevent the subsequent ecological destruction of the self) then we need to inoculate against its effects by establishing a shadow creativity discourse which is borne of relations from gemeinschaft.
This might entail encouraging bad or inappropriate behaviour, anarchy, protest, not being product focussed, being process orientated and viewing the ‘difficult’ behavioural issues that schools face as worthy of celebration, and expressing relief that the system is not getting it all its own way (whilst this may pain us individually and collectively as parents and teachers!). In one sense, in that rebellion we might see the signs of a shadow creativity discourse which could prove to be our long term saviour – both economically and ecologically.
Details about M-Creativity can be seen here: https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/introducing-a-new-form-of-creativity-m-creativity-especially-for-world-creativity-week/
The background to the recent English policy developments in creativity here: https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/rejoice-a-little-known-connection-between-creativity-cultural-education-and-the-falklands-malvinas-campaign/