James Dyson, the inventor of the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner, didn’t create his product in a flash of inspiration. Instead, he worked his idea through 5,126 failed prototypes before completing his wildly successful design. As he says, “Creativity is something we can all improve at, by realizing that is has specific characteristics. Above all, it is about daring to learn from our mistakes.” Usually, we only see the final product perfectly worked out in all its glory. What we don’t see is the behind-the-scenes, trial-and-error processes responsible for innovative creations to emerge. In teaching the art student, it is important to train toward this mind set—to think about failure as a learning opportunity and a necessary step toward becoming more creative and flexible. Mistakes are not then reasons for discouragement, but interesting, educative moments to reflect on and find a better way. Growth inevitably follows.
Learning to be creative is a process that can be taught. Teaching technique, as well as the steps involved in discovering creative ideas for expression and developing an aesthetic awareness, is the ideal outcome of an art class. Practicing and exercising the creative "muscle" becomes essential in developing the artist. As an art teacher, I’ve realized it’s as much about providing an inspiring, supportive place to experiment, learn and grow in a class, analyzing what worked best, as it is to be focused on correctly applying techniques. Part of this method involves showing lots of examples from other artists and discussing their work. This helps educate the eye of the student and develops a refined aesthetic awareness. The student will then be knowledgeable when creating their own unique work and realize that artists are constantly reworking methods and expressing universal themes.
Renowned artist Pablo Picasso once said, “All children are born artists; the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” There is truth in Picasso’s words, and it can be explained by the growing dearth of “creative” individuals and freethinkers in our world. Nevertheless, these creative types are the individuals that elevate our society and keep it progressing toward a better future. Research shows that creativity is positively correlated with success in most fields of life. Here are a few tips on how you may encourage creativity in your own child.
Firstly, it is important to build a good foundation for creativity in the home. Providing a good home environment that fosters creative thinking plays an essential role in a child’s attitude toward creativity and the arts. Promote activities such as painting, drawing, playing with clay or dough, making craft projects, building with Legos, programming computers, and playing or listening to music. Though some of these activities are covered during children’s school hours, it is highly beneficial for children to continue seeking creative expression at home as well.
Another important factor to consider when laying the creative foundations for your child is the preservation of curiosity. Children are naturally curious; especially during the first few years of life, a child is overflowing with questions about the world and how it works. These questions need answers, or at least contemplation that will instigate further questions. An even better approach would be to teach your child how to find the answers himself/herself.
To further promote your child’s creativity, try focusing on original ideas and resourceful approaches to tasks rather than on what is “right” and “wrong.” For instance, if your child is writing a story, give him/her feedback based on his/her ideas and imagination rather than on grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Children can be easily taught to fix mistakes, but creativity is much more difficult to teach.
One significant factor that may hinder the development of your child’s creative genius is the frequency of passive activities such as television viewing. It is recommended that parents encourage active play over television viewing, since playing entails movement and creative thought. Surprisingly, the use of video games (as well as other forms of games) has shown a positive correlation with creativity; nonetheless, it is still important to set reasonable limits on gaming and to encourage creative interaction through active play.
By understanding and taking initiative upon their role in their child’s creative development, parents can play a significant role in the quest to raise the next generation of innovators and resolve the population’s creativity crisis.
Why take computer programming courses? As a philosophy major, I was drawn to learn computer programming once I realized it was an exercise in logic. It was empowering to grow from looking at nonsensical code as if it was a foreign language to understanding its meaning and learning to rearrange numbers and symbols so a computer can execute my instructions. Computer programming is a language of logic in which the challenge is for the programmer to give precise, logical directions for the computer to execute.
As an educator, it is wonderful to find resources that so easily engage the student's full attention. Math suddenly becomes meaningful and even fun since students must use math concepts to build interesting games, stories or other creative projects. It challenges them to stretch their understanding for the satisfaction of building more complex projects that they could then share with friends, family and maybe even the public to enjoy.
Evernote is best for website clippings and makes it much easier to store, organize and sort through all the sites you will inevitable navigate and may wish to get back to. Evernote is seamlessly accessible across multiple devices. After installing the app, just right-click or press share to Evernote as you are browsing on desktop or mobile device and choose which notebook you would like to file website under. Each note automatically stores website link and image of site.
Think of Dropbox as a virtual filing cabinet for documents, photos, and video stored in the cloud. This app is especially handy for organizing lesson plans and accompanying worksheets or visual media. It is also best for high volume documents as there is no file size limit. Uploads will automatically sync across multiple devices and includes a sharing feature.
Storage capacity: 2GB
File size limit: Unlimited
Pinterest is a great visual app when seeking ideas, inspiration, or accompanying images for lessons, and is especially useful for finding ideas for art lessons. You simply type in a search item such as travel or art projects, search through images and pin your favorites for later retrieval. You can create boards for different topics to organize your pins and follow people whose pins you are interested in.
Flickr offers users the greatest amount of free storage and is best used for high density photo storage. Professional photographers use this app for this purpose. Photo sharing option also available and offers a more private place to share photos with family or friends.
Storage: 2 Terabytes
Drive by Google has the most in common with Dropbox as it stores documents and images in the cloud. However, this app has the added advantage of being able to create documents such as spreadsheets, directly within the application using Google's chrome operating system. Documents can be shared with others, edited online, saved and stored which is great for collaborative projects. Drive offers more free storage over Dropbox, with 5GB as opposed to 2GB. Drive also supports up to 30 different filetypes including AutoDesk, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files and allows editing without requiring programs to be installed on your computer or needing to download them to your computer.
File size limit: 10GB
My favorite uses for each app
I use Google Drive to store and edit professional documents such as resumes, references, and projects I'm working on with colleagues. Flickr is what I use to upload photos from my smartphone and rest assured they are stored safely in the cloud lessening the blow of losing a device. Evernote is my favorite app simply because I find so many resources online that I wish to get back to and might otherwise lose track of. I cannot imagine doing serious research without it. Dropbox I use for academic, higher volume documents and Pinterest I use to save ideas for future projects, such as art, cooking or travel.
Written below is an excellent article by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times that has influenced my thinking on how to best approach education and develop curriculum.
Need a Job? Invent It
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN Published: March 30, 2013 The New York Times Sunday Review
WHEN Tony Wagner, the Harvard education specialist, describes his job today, he says he’s “a translator between two hostile tribes” — the education world and the business world, the people who teach our kids and the people who give them jobs. Wagner’s argument in his book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” is that our K-12 and college tracks are not consistently “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.”
This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do.
That is a tall task. I tracked Wagner down and asked him to elaborate. “Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”
My generation had it easy. We got to “find” a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to “invent” a job. (Fortunately, in today’s world, that’s easier and cheaper than ever before.) Sure, the lucky ones will find their first job, but, given the pace of change today, even they will have to reinvent, re-engineer and reimagine that job much more often than their parents if they want to advance in it. If that’s true, I asked Wagner, what do young people need to know today?
“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”
So what should be the focus of education reform today?
“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
What does that mean for teachers and principals?
“Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”
Who is doing it right?
“Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” he said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’ They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.”
Keep an eye out for treasures everywhere you go
Look with an artist's eye and see things that no one else can see. For instance, while walking around you may notice something beautiful catch your eye while shopping, running errands, hiking, or traveling. Also, the collection of objects can be incorporated into collage. Perusing through a garage sale, antique store, or flea market will expose you to unique trinkets of personal value. Travel can also be a great resource for collage work as it is a great way to capture the memories of a destination.
Carry a camera (or smartphone) wherever you go
Sometimes the best inspiration can come from something you spontaneously see. Taking a quick snapshot, of the way a tree twists its branches and the elegance of a gently folding leaf, is something you can revisit for ideas. Saving these images with a handy device will provide you with ample opportunities to exercise your creative muscle. Gathering images will stimulate the imagination and serve as a springboard to launch creative projects.
Visit an art or crafts supply store
Just visiting a favorite store can get you thinking about all the exciting things you can do with all the materials on display. Thumbing your fingers through a soft brush, browsing the colors of paints, and discovering all the textures and prints of fine paper gets the creative mind going. Ideas for using materials you may not have thought of before can open you open to creative possibilities.
See how the professionals do it
Visit art museums and galleries from an artists' perspective. Study the styles, use of media, techniques with color, contrast, composition, and lighting each artist uses. Observe the feeling each piece invokes in you. Get ideas on how you would create a comparable subject. If anyone is around, ask them questions about the artist, their work, and their inspiration.
Designate a space where you can be messy
Putting aside a corner or workstation in your home will allow you to organize the materials you will need and store them together in one place for easy access. This will also serve to function as a gathering place for all things related to your art projects, including the accumulation of inspiring materials. Encourage your creative muse to visit by keeping this space comfortable in your own way- music, a window, a view, fragrant scents, quotes, images, a picture- a place you will want to retreat to. From this space, you can feel free to simply create.
Besides the entertainment value for kids, art serves a far more profound function than just passing the time in a fun way. It contributes a beauty to society, is an outlet for self-expression, and challenges a new perspective to be formed. Art isn't confined simply to painting; it is how value is created in the world. From the simplicity and elegance of a computer product to the appreciation of the sleek design of a car, it all starts with the appreciation of beauty and design. It is both idealistic and practical, serving both form and function. Innovation is increasing more important in the new models of business driving the changing economy. Thinking along traditional methods only won't cut it in this world of dynamic change and innovation. What better way to nurture the creative thought process than engaging in an arts program as a foundation?
Victoria is the Education Program Director at the Orange County Fine Arts