Madness vs. method

Elemental geometry

Elemental geometry © Belinda Allen

Dabbling around in some critical approaches to creativity, I came across Kerry Thomas from UNSW, who has published some papers looking at creativity in senior secondary art teaching from a sociological viewpoint, eg:

  • Creativity as the Exchange of Symbolic Capital in the Transactions between an Art Teacher and his Senior Art Students (2002)
  • Creativity as a Kind of Inferential Social Reasoning in the Transactions Between Art Teachers and their Art Students in the Final Year of Schooling (2006)
  • Creativity as a Function of Open Secretiveness, Denial and Euphemisation in the Transactions between Art and Design Teachers and their Students (2007)

These all look at the disjunction between the ‘teaching’ and the ‘learning’ that manifest in a ‘misrecognition’ of teacher agency. This stems from a fundamental contradiction at the heart of ‘teaching’ creativity.

In her paper ‘Can creativity be taught and learned?’ (2007), Thomas clearly articulates this paradox that lies at the heart of all suggestions that creativity can be taught and measured:

Senior art students and their art teachers are caught in a bind. On the one hand students are obliged by their art teachers and the conditions of final year assessment to find creative autonomy inside of their own intentional resources. On the other hand they, with increasing maturity and social awareness, begin to realise that their creativity is rewarded with its conformity to the values of art education convention. Similarly, art teachers are utterly aware that while they need to fulfil the expectations of their students as creative artists they also need to meet their professional obligations to instructional outcomes. How do students and their art teachers overcome the contradictions implicit in teaching and learning creativity? (, K.pdf)

Thomas goes on to propose that particular social and cultural strategies have developed so that learners and teachers can manage these contradictions. The traditional critique session in the art studio becomes a rehearsal of roles.

For me, this fraught situation illustrates why a highly-structured and standards-based system of education has inevitably led to a general undermining of creative outcomes (as expressed  so eloquently by Ken Robinson). Creativity may be characterised by the taking of risks, by non-conformism, even by subversion and destructiveness. How is a standards-based assessment regime supposed to measure that? However, what separates such acts from mere delinquency is the ability of the perpetrator to harness these for the purpose of some kind of formal outcome – a book, a painting, an engineering design, a business plan, a musical performance – a method to the madness, if you like. Education for creativity then must ideally provide an environment that supports a disposition of non-conformism and risk-taking, and rewards the discipline brought to the ‘creation’.