Monday, August 31, 2015

The creativity crisis

American creativity scores are declining. Research by Dr. KH Kim, Associate Professor at the College of William & Mary, documents a decline on creativity tests at all grade levels starting between 1984 and 1990 and decreasing ever since.

Kim’s findings document a decline in all aspects of creativity, but the biggest decline is in the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way. More than 85% of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984. According to Kim, “children have become… less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

So what exactly is creativity and why are we having such a problem with it? First of all, creativity is certainly not just the domain of the “arts”. The University of Georgia’s Marc Runco calls this “art bias.” The continuing belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When given creativity tasks both engineering majors and music majors had the same patterns of response.

Creativity is not just right brain dominance; it is the ability of the brain to discern information from both hemispheres and to use convergent and divergent thinking (such as linear and non-linear thinking). Trying to solve a problem with only the right side of your brain would result in ideas on the tip of your tongue and just beyond reach.

The initial process of problem solving begins with the left brain analyzing obvious facts and familiar solutions. If the answer is not available, both the left and right hemispheres activate together to process the less obvious information. This more distant information is what we normally tune out, and without it we are less likely to find abstractions, unseen patterns, and alternative meanings. Once a connection is made, the left brain then processes the information into a new idea. Without the process of divergent thinking, using both hemispheres of the brain, we are completely dependent on only the most obvious and already recognized thoughts and ideas.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the change and uncertainty that accompany creativity. It is easier and more comfortable to deal with what we already know (and think we see). According to Kim, the “decrease in originality scores is an indirect measure of growing social pressures toward conformity and status quo, and increasing intolerance for new ideas.”

“Yes, There IS a Creativity Crisis” by KH Kim Jul 10, 2012
“As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Creativity” by Peter Gray, Psychology Today Sep 27, 2012
“The Creativity Crisis” Newsweek Jul 19, 2010

"The Lemon" by Euan Uglow

Dome at Volterra

Euan Uglow described to an interviewer the inspiration for his still life Lemon (1973):
"I'll tell you what Lemon is about ... It's the dome at Volterra that Brunelleschi was supposed to have helped with. It's most beautiful, very simple, very lovely. I couldn't paint the dome there, so when I came back I thought I'd try to paint it from a lemon."

"The Snail" by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse gave up painting in the last years of his life to create paper cut-outs. These were made by cutting or tearing shapes from paper which had been painted with gouache. Matisse said the technique allowed him to draw in color. His daughter said her father made many drawings of snails at the time of the work “The Snail” (1953) and that the idea for this work came from these drawings. The concentric pattern formed by the colored shapes in the center of the work echoes the spiral pattern found in the snail’s shell. 

Matisse said, “All this time I have looked for the same things, which I have perhaps realized by different means . . . There is no separation between my old pictures and my cutouts, except that with greater completeness and abstraction I have attained a form filtered to its essentials and of the object which I used to present in the complexity of space, I have preserved the sign.”

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