Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.
― Pablo Picasso
Creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson simply says it's "the process of having original ideas that have value." Educational literature contains over 100 definitions for creativity. And each definitiion says pretty much the same thing - at least the one's I've read: a creative product has both originality and effectiveness.
I've been wrong. And (cover your eyes), perhaps Robinson's definition is missing "an element" as well.
Creativity that has value depends on what I'll call (for now) craftsmanship.
What is craftsmanship? In a sense, it is the ability to shape new ideas while still conforming to reality. It's the "why" an new idea has value. It's why we spend all the time doing all the other skill building and knowledge acquisition in education. It's what separates cacophony from music or scribbles from art or fantasies from genuine solutions to a problem.
I'm calling each of these factors "craft":
- Content knowledge that makes an original idea workable. (Knowing the properties of baking soda in a new recipe. Understanding accounting principles, best practices in dentistry, or aerodynamic properties of flight in airplane design.)
- Design skills that add clarity and aesthetic value. (Creating a multimedia slide that powerfully communicates the message.)
- Literacies - verbal and multimedia - that enhance the communication. (Using proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. when writing a persuasive essay or a short story, only purposefully breaking the rules.)
- Discipline (physical dexterity developed through practice) that allows a performer to be expressive. (The proper bowing of a violinist that allows a new interpretation of an old song.)
- Accepting the illogical nature of human beings in interpersonal relationships when leading or managing a group. (Knowing that praise works as a motivator; that perception is reality for many; that empathy is a requirement in making good decisions.)
- Working within limits: of resources, of time, of morality, of social acceptability. (Understanding that solutions to problems have to fit real-word conditions - that climate change, for example, can't be solved by simply outlawing all personally-owned vehicles.)
- Working within the restraints of an assignment (Have x number of supporting arguments; must use x number of information sources; presentation may not be over x minutes in length; project must use the scientific method; poem must follow the rules of the haiku, etc.
It's been argued that the creative process is actually enhanced when the demands of craftsmanship get stronger. The more seemingly impossible the task; the greater the need for orginal thinking. (Think of why escape movies are so entertaining.) The more one knows about a field, the more likely she is to make a meaningful contribution**.
Perhaps creative ideas are like diamonds - the greater the pressure during creation; the greater the value. Asking students to be creative does not mean throwing out rules, skills, or knowledge. It simply means using those important factors in new ways.
So, does this make sense to anybody?
* We call the natural ability some people have at these crafts "talent" or "giftedness."
** To be fair, a case for naivete can also be made- becoming too entrenched in the "rules" can make one myopic as well.