Wanted mentors: Dead or Alive

Old_Man_with_Water_StudiesIn the city of Florence, Italy stands the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore with a massive brick dome, a masterpiece in its day, built without the wooden framework required to hold up a dome while the mortar dried. Yet, it took centuries before anyone could build a larger one. The architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, was a goldsmith by trade who learned the secrets of architecture by examining  the work of Roman builders who died centuries before him.

In the sketch book of Leonardo da Vinci is the diagram of a unique machine for lifting heavy weights to great heights. He didn’t invent it. Filippo Brunelleschi did. However, da Vinci observed and recorded this machine in use long after its real inventor died and so he is often credited with inventing it (King 2000).

“Describe the person who influenced you the most.” That is a generic writing prompts that students (and the people who grade their writing ) hate the most. Students feel constrained to show this imperfect person in glowing terms, with all the interesting flaws omitted in favor of complimentary vagueness. Some try to explain how they try to emulate a celebrity and the results is complimentary vagueness, without enough personal information to peak anyone’s interest.

However, give this assignment to students who show promise of great creativity and the results with be different. They will paint a vivid picture of the person that inspired them, warts and all. And, they may even describe in detail the influence that came from experiencing the works of a person that they have never met. According to research, creative people are influenced the most by associates working in the same field, with a close second of influence by a paragon of in their field whose life and work they followed without being personally acquainted (Simonton 1984).

Creative people, such as writers, need living, breathing mentors to help steer them through the often discouraging  journey of producing original work. A long term study following the life of students with higher creative scores on the Test of Creative Thinking, found that having a mentor was significantly related to level adult creative achievement.  (Torrance 1995)

 “Regardless of their own views, (mentors) encourage and support talented individuals in expressing and testing their ideas …. They protect individuals from the counter-reactions of their peers long enough to permit them to try out some of their ideas. They keep the structure of the situation open enough so that creativity can occur.” (Torrance 1995)

Drawing: Leonardo da Vinci c. 1513, public domain

King, Ross (2000). Brunelleschi’s Dome. Walker Publishing (Penguin Books in 2001)
Simonton, D.K. (1984) Popularity, Content and Context in 37 Shakespeare plays Poetics. 1986, Vol. 15, p 493 – 510.
Torrance, E.P. (1995) Why Fly?: A Philosophy of Creativity. New Jersey: Ablex
This entry was posted in Creativity and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Wanted mentors: Dead or Alive

  1. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    What can you learn from dead people?

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