Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Inside the Box. People don’t actually like creativity.

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This article ends with quote which I find quite wonderful: To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let go of satisfying people, often even yourself.

In her article Inside the Box. People don’t actually like creativity, author Jessica Olien makes the strong argument that even people working in highly creative environments are not given the opportunity to fully realize their potential. Very often the most out of the box ideas are rejected and replaced with moderately creative ideas that have proven successful in the past. Olien posits that creativity is really only allowed if it fits into the conceptual framework of your boss, manager, teacher or organization etc…

Her article draws on several examples of creative people stumped by institutions and academic studies which help underscore her point. Olien says that “unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the place that should be most open to them—school.

Studies show that teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring their satisfier classmates who more readily follow directions and do what they’re told.”

When I was in elementary school I had such an incident in my second grade art class. We were instructed to make these trees and then paint them in the appropriate colours, denoted by the teacher. Apparently, I came home crying the next day because all the trees were hanging up on the wall, except mine. When my mother inquired, the teacher replied “ Your daughter did not follow the instructions properly. Instead of painting the tree brown and green hers was multi-colour, therefor I could not hang it up”.

That said, the article further points out that this type of creative discrimination has shown to make the individual much more individual and resistant. The study shows that if you have the “sneaking suspicion you might not belong, the act of being rejected confirms your interpretation. The effect can liberate creative people from the need to fit in and allow them to pursue their interests.”

This clearly happened to me, as I am now a free thinking musician and artist and continue to not follow rules. 🙂

Do any of you have moments like this one you would like to share?

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2 comments on “Inside the Box. People don’t actually like creativity.

  1. hshambroom
    November 19, 2014

    To me the interesting part of this is where the author mentions Dave Hickey’s criticism of arts education. We’ve read surveys and readings in this class that show how participating in the arts at a young age is a primary factor in participation as an adult, but what about when teachers do stifle students’ creativity, either in the way that you mentioned above, by administerting “projects” that are either right or wrong, or by tailoring their classes to fit in with the Common CORE, the standard recently implemented in the DC/MD/VA area. This has always been the challenges with high school art classes – particularly AP classes. How do you “grade” a student on their art without stifling their creativity? How do you critique students on their work in an encouraging way that allows them to grow creatively while also adhering to standard grading measures? In my job I work regularly with high school and middle school art teachers, and have not yet encountered a classroom or teaching model that has solved this problem. I will say, though, that I don’t think teachers are always the problem, as the teachers I’ve worked with have expressed similar frustration. Rather, it seems that a restructuring of arts curriculum is necessary on the part of school administrators, both to give the arts a fair place alongside other subjects, as well as to encourage creativity within students rather following a “right or wrong” project.

  2. carolynsupinka18
    November 21, 2014

    This was a really interesting article! I agree that the idea of quantifying a student’s progress in art classes is really tricky, and can end up stifling or discouraging a student from pursuing experimentation and creativity. I think that these worst case scenarios are very situational. I have had a few very bad artistic/educational environments where doing anything out of the norm or outside of the box was frowned upon. I was once in a writing class where I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of work that I wanted, so one day I just left, and I found a class with an amazing teacher who I still write to and work with to this day. I think as artists and arts managers, it’s up to us to find and create spaces where creativity is encouraged, and to promote supportive environments for our colleagues and fellow artists.

    This past year I lived in a house that seemed to have creativity flowing out of every corner. We woke up and listened to each other’s projects, worked on each others ideas, acted as sounding boards and supporters, and I don’t think we ever once said ‘no’ to each other. This, and my undergraduate experience, were extremely productive and fruitful times for my work. If I had a crazy, explosive idea in a studio class, my professors never said no, they just asked ‘why’. They prompted me to think more critically about my work and process, and if I ever felt like I just HAD to do something, they did everything possible to make it happen.

    So yes, I agree with the article that there are definitely a lot of situations (in academia and work environments) where power, authority, boredom, and an overwhelming apathy overwhelm the environment and can stifle creativity. But as artists, I think it’s possible to create nurturing and supportive spaces in any environment, or to seek them out.

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