Can You Teach Creativity?


Da Vinci’s The Last Supper…Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel…Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa…Van Gogh’s Starry Night…these are all great works of art from some of the most creative minds in history. Each of these great works of art is considered to be creative and so are the artists who made them.

The other day my wife and I had a great conversation, and I thought that I should blog about it. We were discussing the topic of creativity. Is creativity something that can be taught or is it something that you are born with? If it is something that you are born with, then you possess all the creativity that you have and it can be fostered and developed into something great. If it is something that can be taught then everyone can be creative on some level. 

The concept of creativity is, I think, one that is debated on all sides. What is creativity? Are you born creative? Can you teach creativity? So what does dictionary.com says about Creativity: (1.) the state or quality of being creative. (2.) the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination. 

A passage from the Creative article on Wikipedia, I found this: “Creativity has been attributed variously to divine intervention, cognitive processes, the social environment, personality traits, and chance (“accident”, “serendipity“). It has been associated with genius, mental illness, humour and REM sleep.[1] Some say it is a trait we are born with; others say it can be taught with the application of simple techniques. Creativity has also been viewed as a beneficence of a muse or Muses.” So where does creativity come from, and how can you know you see it when you see it?

It is hard to critique what is creative or not. It is very personal. One person can think an item is creative while another may not. What scale, or rubric can you use to decide what is creative? That’s what makes this so hard to understand and grasp. What do you think of when you hear the word creative or creativity? Do you think of a work of art? an invention? a sign or slogan? or a theory?

When I think of creativity I think of Leonardo Da Vinci. He was a Polymath, or Renaissance Man, one who excels in many areas. Da Vinci was a man who dabbled in many areas including, math, science, architecture, botany, anatomy, engineering, sculpturing and painting. He kept a large volume of sketch books that had many of his ideas, including the design for the parachute, helicopter, tanks, and many more designs that were not fully understood and used for more than 400 years later. Was Da Vinci born with this creative ability or was it learned when he worked with the great Verrocchio?

Take the poll,  and tell me what you think. Is creativity taught or are you born with it?

I also asked some of twitter friends about this. Here are some replies that I got. (@laughingatchaos has a 2e child, which is short for twice exceptional, when a child is gifted but also has a learning disability).

@laughingatchaos: @jeff_shoemaker You can encourage creativity, on their terms. My 2e kid WON’T be creative writing, but watch out w/inventions and legos  🙂

@ganymeder: born with it, but then its either nurtured or not.

@doublelattemama: I think everybody is born with an ability 2 b creative & it can either be cultivated or squashed.

@DeepWatersCoach: @jeff_shoemaker I love the topic! I would have liked to have seen a both/and option–you’re born w/it, and it can/needs to be fostered (talking about the limited answers to the poll)

 As I write this, I see that I am coming up with more questions than answers. Which is the same place my wife and I were when we were discussing this topic.

Many of my friends, along with myself, believe that creativity is born and fostered. I do truly believe that. I think one of the great examples in history is Leonardo Da Vinci. He was a gifted child who was interested in nature. He made detailed sketches of the things he saw. He later became an apprentice in the Verrocchio studio where he developed his talents as a painter and sculptor. Think about the gifted students in your class. You know that they are smart, but do they show signs of creativity? I think most times they may show creative ways to problem-solve. That’s what I see in my classroom. Most of my students are labeled Creative Thinking, which for me means that are able to create creative solutions to problems, understand and solve puzzles, and able to come to conclusions and opinions about various topics of study. These abilities I try to foster in my classroom with my students. When we do different simulations they come up with various answers based on the information presented to them. There is a correlation between creativity and intelligence.

I believe that you can’t separate true giftedness and creativity. Creativity is more than just art work, but it is problem-solving. In an article from talentdevelopment.com, Dr.Dean Keith Simonton states that  creativity and intelligence linkage goes “back to Galton’s Hereditary Genius, intelligence and eminence are almost synonymous. He actually says that if people have high enough intelligence they can’t help but become famous in their field because that intelligence will allow them to have the capacity to produce things that will just blow everybody else away.” Think of Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac newton. They figured out some of the most complicated scientific revelations in history such as the Theory of relativity, gravity, and the laws of motion.

In closing, creativity, intelligence, problem-solving, and giftedness go together like a chain link fence. They are each their own link, but over all they make a very beautiful fence. 

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