Can creativity be taught?


 Emmanuel Fremiet’s depiction of himself creating a sculpture model

Anyone working with a program to encourage creativity has found that deliberate efforts to kick start creativity may fail while creative works may still arise in spite of a pedantic atmosphere. The work of the imagination is terribly unpredictable and won’t follow our schedules.

It is very possible that complex creativity, which blends the recognition of far flung connections and the persistence to try every avenue to produce an innovation, is not an ability that can be taught. According to author and editor Irving Taylor, creativity exists hidden within many people, but requires development.  “At some point, however, some conscious discipline and control is beneficial and necessary. It is difficult to know whether developing creativity is like building a muscle or following a recipe.”[1]

Over half a century ago, J. H. McPherson described four different kinds of instruction aimed at improving creativity. The first was to teach people to recognize that a problem actually existed.[2]  How many times do we go through a number of steps to complete a task, assuming that is the way it must be done. A creative person usually cannot do this without thinking Can’t there be an easier way?  A different type of creative person has a hard time consuming mediocrity and asks Isn’t there a way to produce something better? How hard is it to teach people to ask these questions?  Harder than you think; problem finding is most challenging because it threatens the status quo.

J. H. McPherson  recommended developing cognitive problem solving techniques as a second kind of training and instruction in factors which help or hinder in creativity as the third type of training. Finally McPherson insisted that individuals needed help to accept and support their own creative ideas.[2]  

However, much creative work is produced because the individual feels the need to do it– creativity for its own sake rather than to solve the problems of surrounding society. Lack of acceptance and support from others, not the individual themselves, seems to be the bigger drawback.

In my own  research I interviewed college students studying the arts to identify the factors that helped or hindered them. Near the top of those that helped were “risk taking” (and the very similar “experimenting”), along with “being imaginative.” However, they viewed having creative friends as providing the most help. Their major hindrances were lack of time and resources, followed by their own lack of expertise. To cultivate creativity it seems necessary to provide the appropriate environment: lots of other creative people, no fear of experimentation and plenty of time and resources.

As I examine the kind of instruction recommended to teach creativity, I find that creativity is nurtured, encouraged or cultivated rather than actually taught.  It seems that creativity cannot be learned, but it can be stunted or even killed.

[1] Irving A. Taylor, A Retrospective View of Creativity Investigation, in edited by Perspectives in Creativity, eds, Irving A. Taylor, Jacob W. Getzels (1975)Transaction Publishers
[2] McPherson, J.H. (1964)Environment and training for creativity
This entry was posted in Creativity and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Can creativity be taught?

  1. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    The age-old question…

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