“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”
So says Sir Ken Robinson, author, speaker and educationalist - and with over 62 million views of his TED talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’, this might be a man worth listening to.
If you haven’t watched it (and believe me, you should - here, go now), Sir Ken speaks of the hierarchy - subtle, but enduring and pervasive - that undoubtedly exists in schools around the world.
This unspoken pyramid promotes subjects like maths and literacy to the top and pushes the arts down to the bottom.
And within the arts themselves there’s another pecking order - a whole set of murky, nonsensical rules where music is superior to ‘soft option’ media studies; painting is superior to dance - unless the dance is ballet, perhaps.
Newspaper headlines regularly blast “Mickey Mouse” subjects; a government report leaked earlier this year suggested that fees for ‘low-value’ degrees - those with a poor return on investment - would need to be capped at £6,500 per year, well below the current national average of £9,200.
Sir Ken has an interesting explanation that the education system as we know it focuses on serving employability and industrialism - a system which simply isn’t sustainable any longer. And given that the impact of human action on the planet has really entered into the public consciousness in the last couple of years, it feels imperative that we must act.
AI and technology are changing the job market as we know it. “A lot of other jobs for which we’re training people in universities – which have generated reasonably good incomes over the last 50 years – will no longer exist in the same numbers,” says Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London.
However, an education in art offers something beyond memorising processes and technical detail. Sonia Boyce, professor at University of the Arts London, says in an article for the Royal Academy. “We build creative thinkers and creative do-ers. Unexpected solutions are the gold of art schools – you don’t just follow a formula, you are encouraged to think beyond the limits of any one context, to think beyond limits.”
“You’re looking for the edges of things, the question marks about things. As well something that is pleasurable and gives pleasure, that is a very transferable skill.”
One rather cynical ‘backhanded benefit’ of a society that places less value on creativity than economics or politics, however, is that it encourages those who follow an artistic path to be more resourceful and resilient. According to the Creative Industries Federation, 35% of those working in creative fields are self-employed, and self-employed workers tend to be happier, more fulfilled and engaged. And for those who work in a creative field, the benefits are even more pronounced - take a look at this post from earlier this year where we explored the links between art and wellbeing.
“They’re [the self-employed] leading the way to the future of work, making a living that is less traditional but much more creative, mobile and fluid,” says Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at CHEAD. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, society will recognise this as a distinctive workplace advantage and adjust the curriculum accordingly in schools.
Whatever society tells us with its cuts to arts funding - and almost £400m has been stripped out of annual local authority spending on culture and the arts since 2010 - imagination is vital to our human experience. Experimenting creatively - whether within or outside of a formal education setting - is a critical means of fostering that imagination.
So let’s recognise and celebrate our creative capacities and their “richness”, to use Sir Ken’s words. Let’s prepare our children for a future of work and employment that’s changing.
Let’s lead by our artistic example.
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