Suppressed Creativity

What do we mean by creativity? The dictionary definition states simply that it relates to ‘the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something’.

Broadly speaking, most experts agree that the creative process is made up of many components – imagination, originality, productivity, problem solving, divergent thinking and the ability to produce an outcome of value and worth. Artists and makers may add ‘spirit’ to the list – that undefinable sense from within that your life would lack meaning if you couldn’t create.

Definitions aside, what is less easy to identify is whether creativity is something we are born with or something we develop as we acquire knowledge and skills. Certainly, it has nothing to do with intelligence because research has shown that children scoring high on intelligence tests are not necessarily highly creative and vice versa.

In reality, research and statistics can only tell us half the picture. They don’t tell us why some people are creative and others aren’t, nor do they tell us how we develop, nurture and maintain our creativity from childhood through to adulthood – or in the case of many people, apparently lose it altogether.

Anyone who has seen pre-school children at creative play will recognise the imagination, originality and above all the freedom of spirit displayed by youngsters when given tasks such as painting, drawing, making objects and solving problems. And yet, according to research, that creativity begins to wane the minute children begin school at around the age of five or six. By the age of 13 it has significantly diminished.

There may be many reasons why children’s creativity falls away – peer pressure, a lack of focus on creativity in the school curriculum and limited opportunities among them – but though these statistics present a pessimistic outlook I am firmly of the view that creativity is never completely lost; rather, it lies dormant and it is possible to nurture it back to life.

My work with a group of youngsters with disabilities on the Warrior at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard has reaffirmed to me that the spark of creativity is there within a person and all it takes is someone or something to reignite it. The project involves the group photographing views on and from the ship with the aim of reproducing the images as postcards to be sold through the dockyard’s shop.

This opportunity gives the youngsters an alternative to the written word and I have felt privileged to witness how they respond and rise to the visual stimulation they are offered. Those children who are withdrawn and silent at school come alive in our sessions – they stand up and speak up in front of large groups with confidence and authority. Those who are diagnosed with a short attention span in the classroom manage to sit for two hours without fidgeting or distracting others – and willingly come back week after week for more!

They work in small groups, supporting each other and making individual and group decisions about the direction of their work: given responsibility, they feel confident to make choices. They feel free to express their own opinions and respect the views of others. It’s easy to see among this group that the voice of art and expression affects their sense of self; it’s a language these youngsters can understand and articulate.

That’s not to say that there are no parameters or planned outcome for the work they are doing; rather they have a safe environment, working within a framework with clear choices and decision making powers, which in turn allows them to push the boundaries. Here, there is no right or wrong answer and creative solutions are commended rather than criticised.

Imagine having these same creative opportunities in schools – not just in art and design classes but also across the more ‘academic’ subjects such as maths and science. Wouldn’t it be great if creativity became the norm in schools rather than a very rare treat?

Education guru Sir Ken Robinson believes that human life is inherently creative. Education, he says, should not be a mechanical system but a human system – he champions a radical rethink of our school systems to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

You can watch the inspirational TED talk he made in 2006, to date seen by more than 29 million people, here:

I defy anyone not to be moved – and convinced – by the case he makes for creativity.

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