Note: To protect the privacy of our members, e-mail addresses have been removed from the archived messages. As a result, some links may be broken.

Lesson Plans

Re: creativity

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Thu, 19 Feb 1998 20:57:10 -0600

At 06:55 PM 2/17/98 +0500, you wrote:
>I am a graduate student writing a research paper on creativity and the
>brain and would like any input anyone has on the subject. I am most
>interested in whether you believe that creativity can be taught or not.
>Can it be taught or is it something you're born with? Do we teach
>people how to be creative, or how to enhance the ability to be creative
>that they already possess? Please let me know your opinions. My paper
>is due soon!


It seems a bit strange that you are interested in our opinions for your
research paper. I certainly hope you will also include a substantial
treatment of work with creativity which has been an ongoing evolution of
theory and brain research in the field of psychology. You would also do
well to check out the CREA-CPS listserv folks on the Web. I hope they are
still around, while I was with that list (for a couple years) I found them
a wonderful resource for thinking about the creative process and its
relationship to art education. Here is the info for the list, CREA-CPS
(Creativity & Creative Problem Solving)

Subscribe to (automated; one-line body of
sub crea-cps FirstName LastName)

Before I give you my opinion, may I suggest that you may want to check out
some information on Herman Helmholtz, a German Psychologist who did some
work on the creative process in the late nineteenth century and then look up
the French mathematician, Henri Poincare who in 1908, built upon Helmholtz's
ideas. You may save yourself some work by reading the work by George
Kneller and Jacob Getzels, American psychologists writing in the 60s.
Their contribution was to add to the work of Helmholtz and Pointcare.

I realize that you may have already covered this ground, but, in a nutshell,
the Americans conception of creativity evolved from previous ideas about
the process and they saw the progression as going from:

1. finding or formulating a problem ( Kneller called it "first insight" )
2. researching and drawing from life experience, networking, etc. (Getzel
called it "saturation" )
3. mulling over the problem in a sort of chaos of ideas and knowledge
(Getzel called it "incubation" )
4. an idea surfaces ( Getzel called it "illumination")
5. the idea is tested as a potential solution to the problem ( Getzel called
it "verification" )

.of course, if the idea doesn't work out, it is back to stage 1 or 2 or 3
and the loop can continue as long as one has the energy to keep trying.

I have seen additional ideas which suggest that the process may be much more
complicated then what is outlined here, but at least the work of these men
give us a point of departure. I would like to build my opinion in a step by
step fashion using Getzel's stages and my experience as an artist and educator.

You said you were "interested in whether we believe that creativity can be
taught or not. Can it be taught or is it something you're born with? Do we
teach people how to be creative, or how to enhance the ability to be
creative that they already possess?"

I am of the opinion that brain function in areas like creative problem
solving depends upon an individual having a host of skills (learned) and
ability (from birth and from environmental influences) in place. Creativity
is something which is more complicated then most tasks we humans must
undertake in our daily lives and it draws from a multitude of simpler
thinking skills..

Consider a child who does not fully develop in the womb, or who's brain
has been damaged so natural development is not complete. It could have been
the mother's diet, disease, smoking, drinking, drugs, sniffing paint, a car
accident or any other unexplained phenomena which limits brain development.
We can also include in this group a lack of physical and mental stimulation,
a lack of encouragement and other psychological stresses from a
dysfunctional family unit. In each situation, the potential for the
learning aspects required for creativity are retarded or lost. The later
skill development, those aspects of brain function which are needed to
complete the recipe of reason, experience, intuition and application have
little chance to develop and thrive in the thinking mind of the unfortunate

On the other hand, we can consider a child who inherits that which is needed
in the developing egg, thrives in the healthy womb, is stimulated and
nurtured in the early years so that the child moves into the educational
process with good health, a sense of well being and encouragement from
others. There is a very good chance that learning will take place to
complete the recipe of a creative mind. As educators, we marvel at the fact
that many creative people, and many of our students, seem to have overcome
negative accidents and experiences in early childhood and go on to develop

So, in my opinion, creativity can not be taught or learned if some of the
foundational ability is not present in the womb and early environment. At
the same time, let me explain that a great deal can be done to teach and
learn creativity. Let us look again at Getzel's model. Finding or
formulating a problem, as well as, researching, drawing from life
experience, all aspects of formal education and the use of networking
among friends and contacts to help with the information process all employ
an ensemble of remembering, learned reasoning processes and personality
attributes which help to direct potentially functional information into the
next stage, that which Getzel called incubation. One may want to select a
few individuals from history who are thought to have been creative and then
look at the resources from which they must have gathered as they faced the
preliminary stages of the creative process. When we look at them we find
them well educated, curious well beyond their area of expertise and they
will have had interesting life experience outside their fields. In each
case, one will find a variety of contacts and friends who provided the means
for the exchange of ideas and information, networking. (No wonder people
like Picasso spent so much time in the cafe, the brothel, or in the studios
of friends. He was probably doing a bit of networking.)

Let us now consider the stages Getzel called "incubation" and"
illumination". Here the brain must move from the world of memory and
research, that of sequential and rational thinking, to another place where
intuition, non-sequential and global thinking is the order of the day. Here
we are mulling over a problem in a chaos of facts, experiences and ideas,
hoping that the solution, the great idea, will surface. In the studio,
minutes turn into hours, even days, and ideas float to the surface and
dissolves at the end of the brush, wads of paper in the trash, or in a
growing pile of soft wet clay failures beside the potters wheel. Here, one
must add to the knowledge gained in the saturation phase the critical
ingredients of time, a sense of freedom and a confidence that solutions can
come from the chaos and mess in and outside the mind.

So if we want to help someone learn to be creative we must give them time
and encourage in learning situations which help them find confidence and
comfort in what is usually an uncomfortable state of mind. We must help them
value the experience of "flying by the seat of their pants" and when they
have tested that kind of learning environment and find that it can also be
productive, they are a little closer to the freedom and confidence which
must be in place as one seeks to select from that which is known and make
from it something wonderfully unknown, solution-like and new. Art rooms
and creative writing classes are great places for a child to learn this
portion of the creative process......chaos within and without.

I mentioned time in connection with this part of Getzel's process for one
must realize that a creative environment can exist from seconds to years,
as problems defy solutions and some devoted individuals doggedly trot
behind in their dust.. (Yah, yah,...we know, " one part inspiration and the
rest is perspiration") Tenacity must be one of the skills we can teach and
learn in the classroom in support of the creative process, just as we must
insist that solutions do not come in haste and they do not come when
exterior demands are piled upon us to devour our time We must make or find
the environment and the time to explore freedom to mull, to incubate the
idea. .

That which Getzel called "verification" is a stage which I personally find
troubling. In the minds of many, this must be the stage where an idea takes
on a physical form. Here, it is applied to solve the real world problem as
proof of the validity of the great idea. This brings to mind all kinds of
skills and techniques which could be taught and learned depending upon the
field in which creativity is to take place. Certainly, we in art education,
can make a contribution to those students who would choose to create with
the media of our field. Yet, my confusion comes from practical experience
in the studio where often ideas flow and take on a life of their own. The
ideas seems to grow and twist well away from any original "first insight,"
or problem, which I have set for myself. Frequently the creative process
in my studio has yielded many more ideas, more variations on a theme, more
parts to a series then I have had energy to pursue. In the studio, the
original problem which set the creative process into motion will wilt and
die for lack of a sustained interest. Alas, in the end, I must admit to
little agreement with the process which is described by Getzel and others
when it is applied to the creative production of objects of art, poems and
literary works. But that is another matter.

As to your questions, I feel that some of the potential for creativity
depends upon circumstances outside of teaching and learning, however, there
are mental processes and ways of working which can be developed in our
educational system which can have a positive impact upon the ability to be

Robert Fromme <rfromme> or <rfromme>