Publisert 7. februar 2020

What is creativity?

illustrasjon med fargete hende, noter og en lyspære

It would take a thesis to answer the question well, but I’d like to share a few reflections on creativity. And since I’m a music teacher, I’ll connect it to music education in the end. But first, let me make you a drawing:

Gif som tegner en person

Now, is this an example of creativity? Some would instantly say «yes», but I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m afraid you cannot possibly know ... yet. I’ll get back to this in a few moments. Let’s fist have a look at some common definitions of creativity:

This was the first result when I searched the term “creativity definition”:

  • Creativity - the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness

Other definitions:

  • The ability to use skill and imagination to produce something new or to produce art; the act of doing this (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)
  • Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. (Wikipedia)

Despite some variations, all definitions I find, claims creativity to be about something new and original. Some kind of inventiveness. And doesn’t this correspond quite well to the common use of the term?

With my students we simplify the term as either creating something new, combining known stuff in new ways or elaborating them in new contexts.

Back to my drawing. I claimed that you couldn’t really know yet whether or not this was an example of creativity. I could have been inventing this concept of drawing a person now. But the fact is that the first time I made it was back in 1993 (yes, I remember the day very well). Since then I’ve been drawing more or less exactly the same thing hundreds of times, maybe even thousands. It was practically my signature for more than 25 years. And even then, in 1993, I didn’t invent it myself. I just copied what I saw a friend of mine did. So, from my hand, there’s not even a tiny bit of inventiveness or originality in the drawing. It wasn’t an act of creativity - I was reproducing my friend’s drawing.

Now, there’s nothing wrong about reproducing. On the contrary, it can be both fun and very useful. It can give us increased knowledge and a deeper understanding. It may even lead to creative work. But reproducing a drawing is in itself not an act of creativity.

We use creativity in developing practically any part of our society and it’s often said that we need creativity and innovation to move forward. Well, we ain’t going anywhere if we teach our students that creativity is reproducing what we have already done.

Music is a wonderful way to let children explore their own creativity. It is playful, intuitive and you cannot ruin anything. By far all children created music at an early age, - as they hummed melodies while drawing or jumped rhythms in the street. Continuing this exploration of musical and bodily creativity is a crucial part of teaching music. This requires that we encourage our students not only to reproduce what professional artists are already doing. They need to listen beyond that, to go further, - moving forward, - as great composers and songwriters have been doing at all times. The clue for teachers is then, as in all learning, to find activities that stimulate creativity and an open mind, while at the same time considering the student’s proximal development zone. Hence providing opportunities for meaningful creating and inventiveness.

This process can easily be ruined by an unconscious teacher. To avoid this, we need to reflect upon «What is music?» I will get back to this in a later blogpost. In the meanwhile, you may read about one of my favorite activities in music class: Two of my favourites? (In Norwegian)  Or you may reflect upon this: If we teach music merely as something that has already been created, are we then actually teaching skills (which is good), but neglecting creativity?

So, if we want everything to sound great, teach students to reproduce greatness. If we want them to be creative, teach them to use create with their own curiosity. It takes practice and it won’t always sound well, - but those steps need to be taken.


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