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Are You Happy With Your Creative Time?

Creativity Post had an interesting piece by Jeffrey Davis who reviews the results of the State of Create study.

Davis notes:

85% of Americans surveyed believe that creativity is key to driving economic growth. Two-thirds believe that being creative is valuable to society. 75% value their own creativity in resolving personal and professional problems.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Only 25% feel they live up to their creative potential.

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For the Americans surveyed, self-doubt (27%), other personal obligations (29%), other work obligations (22%), and one’s age (13%) ranked fairly low.

That leaves two self-perceived blocks: Time and Money.

54% of surveyed Americans claimed they didn’t have the financial resources to let them create. 52% perceived that lack of time kept them from being able to create.

But when you unpack this question, its potential answers, and the actual responses, much if not all of it comes back to time.

Our perception of time is tied to how we view our obligations. If we think we don’t have enough money to create, this means in part that we think we don’t have enough money to be freed up from other obligations to afford us the solitude and “off-time” necessary to be “on” creatively.

Davis goes into some detail about how people can change this situation by either changing their situation, changing their mind, or both, to make space in their lives for creative pursuits.

My first thought upon reading this was that in the coming years perhaps the real value arts organizations can offer people is guidance and support to essentially become more disciplined…about letting themselves indulge fanciful thought and experimentation.

The other thing I wanted to point out is that this survey was conducted worldwide with 1000 people each from United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan.

The results are pretty dang interesting. There is a summary and infographic that accompany the study. Globally, Japan and Tokyo ranked as the most creative county and city–except among Japanese who don’t see themselves as creative. The U.S. ranked second “except in the eyes of Americans, who see themselves as the most creative.”

I haven’t gotten a chance to really consider some of the results, but there are some really glaring differences in attitudes. On the question “Being creative is still reserved for the arts community.” 78% of Japanese agreed with the statement versus 28% U.S., 35% U.K., 27% Germany and 21% in France.

There is a similar difference in response to the question “Being creative is reserved
for an elite community,” though only 52% of Japanese agreed.

Part of the difference may be attributable to what each culture defines as creative work. One culture may deem adding a funny caption to a picture and posting it on line to be creative while another may only regard someone who has gone through a lengthy apprenticeship and journeyman process to be a true creative.

Some of the responses from the different countries were included. I wondered if they were really representative of the country or chosen because they reinforce a certain image of that country.

Still, it was interesting to think about the following quote from the U.S. in the context of all the conversation that occurs about intellectual property rights.

“So many ideas have already been used, and in variation. When I think of a creative idea that I believe is new and original, it’s likely that it has already been done. I think the internet can often stray us away from our own creativity.”

or this one in the context of the stereotype that Germans are disciplined and time conscious:

“The less time the less is the creative head. Time constraints and pressure to kill creativity in the long run. Artists can only make art because they carry no other job and have this time. Creativity is born out of boredom and fun at the experiment.”

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New Year’s Resolution: Play With Your Family

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I often mis-credit my role in my 8th grade play as the start of involvement in performance and that it all really started when my siblings and I put on plays for the rest of our family.

Back in November there was a great article by Lawrence McCullough on Creativity Post about how families can use play making as a communication and learning tool. I was interested to see him suggest this is something you could do with kids as young as four.

Even if you have been in the performing arts for 15 years and think you know what you are doing, it is worth reading the article. These are your kids, not adult professionals or even students you are working with and the goals for the activity are much different. For example, one of the things McCullough warns against is getting an idea and then casting the show before you have any dialogue written.

Even though you don’t work that way professionally, it might be something you would be apt to do with a story the while family knows–telling the story of why Santa delivers presents and deciding who will play Santa, the elves, etc.

If you cast before you know what characters are going to say or really be about, you’re painting children into a corner, locking them into thinking about just one part of the play when they should be exercising their creative abilities to the max.

McCullough talks about many of the benefits of these activities from showing events from your kids’ points of view to providing a tool for resolving problems and, of course, nurturing creativity.

The thing that I oriented most on was his suggestion of using playmaking to tell the family’s stories. I wondered how many families really communicate their stories these days. Are grandparents fulfilling their stereotypical roles of telling stories about the old days for their grandkids to groan about? Since 60 is the new 40 (or whatever) grandparents may be leading too active a life to bother their grandkids with such things.

Yet there is a lot to be learned and bonds to be formed by these stories. My family has a lot of stories: my Sicilian great grandmother being “taught” to speak English resulting in her cursing out her work supervisor instead of wishing him good morning; my father being rewarded for helping out a customer after he clocked out for lunch; my mother and her roommates at an all-girls Catholic college being far more mischievous than my father and his college drinking buddies.

I credit my knowledge of these stories and their attendant lessons to the fact there was no cable television, much less internet when I was growing up. Nowadays, you probably have to make a special effort just to bring everyone together to communicate your family’s struggles and triumphs. Which is why I am suggesting this as a potential New Year’s Resolution.

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Fleeing The Tiger Is No Time To Get Creative

There was a recent series of posts about creativity and children on the Creativity Post website that have made some concepts gel for me.

In September Dr. Peter Gray made a post about declining creativity scores in school aged children. In part he blames an education system which increasingly focuses on the concept that solutions are either right or wrong rather than providing free time to experiment and play. Given the research he cites, parents that over schedule their kids’ time also share some of the blame.

As much as we in the arts tout the benefits of creativity, you may be surprised to learn how important it is to success in life and how significant the decline is:

According to Kim’s analyses, the scores on these tests [Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)] at all grade levels began to decline somewhere between 1984 and 1990 and have continued to decline ever since. The drops in scores are highly significant statistically and in some cases very large….

…but the biggest decline is in the measure called Creative Elaboration, which assesses the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way. Between 1984 and 2008, the average Elaboration score on the TTCT, for every age group from kindergarten through 12th grade, fell by more than 1 standard deviation. Stated differently, this means that more than 85% of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984. Yikes.

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Indeed, the TTCT seems to be the best predictor of lifetime achievement that has yet been invented. It is a better predictor than IQ, high-school grades, or peer judgments of who will achieve the most.

In a post this month, Gray continues on this theme discussing how important it is to allow a child to create in a non-judgmental environment. He cites some interesting research on the impact of judgement in home environments on the creative development of children.

My ah-ha! moment came after Gray discusses how people will generate a more creative product if they don’t know their work will be evaluated. People tend to edit themselves in order to please the evaluator and out of fear and anxiety about being judged. (my emphasis)

“If a tiger is chasing you, your best bet is to use well-learned or habitual ways of escaping from the tiger, not to dream up new creative ways of doing so. Creative ways always run the risk of failure, so we are biologically constructed to cut creativity off when failure has serious consequences.”

Many in the arts, myself included, have written about how important it is for arts organizations to embrace the risk of possible failure by experimenting with new approaches to the creation of art, audience/visitor experience, marketing, pricing, etc.

In the context of Gray’s observation, it isn’t that arts organizations are simply risk averse about new experience the way kids are worried about the first day of school or audiences are anxious about attending their first classical music concert.

Rather the fear engendered by financial consequences evokes a hard wired primal fight/flight reaction that actually shuts down our ability to think creativity.

The idea that this situation is biological was as illuminating to me as Neill Archer Roan’s observation a few years ago that emotional satisfaction engendered a diminished sense of responsibility for self-/professional development in arts professionals.

I think it is helpful for arts organizations to be aware the fear of experimentation in the face of perceived threats is not only probably irrational, but also a genuinely visceral reaction. Knowing this, they can endeavor to create a decision making environment where the influence and presence of these threats are diminished.

Likewise, it is important for arts organizations to know these things when providing and advocating for arts education. Creativity is cultivated by arts instruction that provides opportunity for wholly free expression alongside direction and evaluation.

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If You Meet Mozart On The Road, Kill Mozart

Back in June there was an interesting piece on The Creativity Post about the Mozart Myth.

The Mozart myth goes something like this. Some people are born with talent so tremendous that music and other cultural products spring from their minds fully-fledged, as if by magic. Mozart, so the myth goes, would compose his symphonies in one sitting with nary a revision through a single act of inspiration. The more generalized myth, popularized by writers such as Arthur Koestler, is that all creative people work this way.

The authors, Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, recount a story about a student they had who had made it big with a rock song in his first year of college, but when it came time to do a follow up, he felt his creativity was blocked. He took their class in the hope they could unlock his creativity again.

They had this student examine his creative process and he eventually came to realize he had actually worked on his first big hit over the course of 6 months. Finally, he had a eureka moment where everything gelled. The reason he felt like he was blocked was because he was waiting for another eureka moment to drop the next masterpiece in his lap, not recognizing the first hadn’t done so.

This story is a good reminder not to mistake the frisson experienced during that eureka moment as the whole creative process. How many times have we heard that genius is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration but continue to value only the inspiration part?

We may be able to dash off some inspired prose or music in a few moments forgetting that there were years of reading, writing, listening, watching, thinking and practicing that have brought us to that moment. More to the point, there were probably long periods of mistakes, lack of comprehension and frustration involved along the road.

Having a solution come to mind so quickly can provide such a sense of relief and joy that it is easy to forget incidents like the anxiety of having to write a book report each week in third grade and the effort involved in that college paper that you still got an F on.

Yes, talent is still distinctly important and can significantly shorten the supposed 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery, but the effort and process is still required.

What is actually probably more damaging than self-recognized creatives buying into the Mozart Myth is everyone else believing it. Believing there is a hard and fast line between those who are blessed with the ability to create and those who are cursed with a lack, is what contributes and reinforces the perception of the arts as elitist.

There is not only the concept that an elite few are granted the talent and inspiration to create, frequently there is a message that there is only a select group that can understand it all, too. It can be difficult to understand that the ability to create and to appreciate are both cultivated over time.

As Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein note, we really only ever focus on the results rather than the process. Bands tell stories in interviews about how they completely wrote a song on the tour bus between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, but no one credits the 15 years spent in 4 different bands no one ever heard of as the incubator in which the requisite abilities were developed.

For the most part, however, our educational institutions tend to do just the opposite: we hold up for scrutiny only finished products, strip them of the processes, tools, skills, histories and personal stories that gave them birth and, intentionally or not, discard and erase creative know-how.

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