Here’s a fascinating article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman from Newsweek about the decline of creativity in the US:
The article uses reports from professor E. Paul Torrance’s creativity tests as a jumping off point about measuring creativity, how creativity manifests and why it’s important. Early on the author’s define creativity (not sure who has “accepted” the definition, as I might wordsmith it some myself):
“The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”
On the one hand, the authors posit that “creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom.”
“The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.”
On the flip side, it does seem that artists do have a leg up in the creativity category. Using an example of a study done at University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, the article highlights the value of right-brain/left-brain process in creativity:
“They put Dartmouth music majors and nonmusicians in an fMRI scanner, giving participants a one-handed fiber-optic keyboard to play melodies on. Sometimes melodies were rehearsed; other times they were creatively improvised. During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.”
The whole article left me pondering creativity vs. arts and really how we can provide opportunities for more, more, more. This means rethinking everything: arts education, education reform, community development – all of it. To me empowering creativity is empowering individuals to be critically engaged in our world and our environment.