The Creative Spark

The Idea

Creativity.
Magic.

Is there any difference? Not to obfuscate the two, but in the presence of a wizened Creative, the uninitiated are mesmerized. Crowds gather, eyes widen, and coins relocate to new zip codes. Creativity is magic, and is perhaps one of our species’ greatest powers. But it is elusive, mysterious to most, like sacrosanct murmurs from shadowy figures. And it’s coveted, enough so that huge corporations invest in trainers, special speakers and workshops, ever-yearning to see creative geniuses puff into existence after eight hours of scripted activities.

Yes, creativity can be learned, so if you consider yourself a particularly insipid creator, there is hope. But I fear we have misread this particular part of the map, wandered off the torn edges past the sea monsters, and out into the shadows. Creativity is the mind’s ability to connect unrelated information and transform it into a cohesive, new reality. It is a way of life. Or maybe this works for you: Creativity is the babbling fool who wanders the woods, lifting huge leaves in search of the toad’s lost checkbook. (Looking for some valid interpretation for that image? That’s your job, not mine…)

My point is, creativity evolves through active, life-long learning and the building of mental connections via curiosity. The fact that we marginalize creative endeavors in our schools as “electives”, substituting in their place dry skill sets derived from some corporation’s wish list, is damaging. And the fact we later try to implant creativity into employees, many whom now consider themselves as “unimaginative”, is nonsensical (the Logical Song, anyone?).

I’m an Art teacher. Before that, I was an English teacher. I swapped tweed jackets with elbow patches for paints and palettes because that’s where I saw real growth in students and substantial improvement in their thinking skills. As an English instructor I was under pressure, like so many of my colleagues, to customize most English lessons for standardized tests, and to systematically prioritize analytical voice over creative expression. After all, according to politicians, test scores are the measure of a school’s competency.

Bullshit. I read the map correctly. I didn’t learn to love language because I diagrammed sentences and wrote endless reams of analytical essays. I grew to become a competent thinker and creator because I was challenged by stories and artwork full of passion and humanity, creative works which challenged accepted norms and posited alternate realities.

Creativity is magic, not some pill to swallow with bottled water at an office in-service training.  And those murmuring shadows? They’re telling you that you have that magic, too. Just hop off your log and peek under a few leaves yourself. You might just find something deliciously absurd.

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