Saturday, February 13, 2010

Daily Practice 44/365

Title: "Cradle of Creativity"

Yesterday I was watching a TED Prize talk by Sir Ken Robinson about schools and creativity. Robinson shared an anecdote about three young boys playing the kings in a nativity play. They came on stage in the wrong order, the first proclaiming to Joseph "I come bearing a gift of gold", the second (out of sequence) proclaiming "I come bearing a gift of myrrh" and then the third arrived to proclaim "I come bearing a gift Frank sent". He used the story to illustrate the point that children are not afraid to be wrong, and innately will use their imagination and creativity to smooth over mistakes. That is, until years in the school system strips them of their creativity and makes them fear being wrong.

In another TED talk Jaimie Oliver showed a clip of his visit to a kindergarten class to see if the kids knew their fresh vegetables. While it was distressing to see that six year olds could not correctly name a tomato, potato, etc, it was heartening to see them eagerly raising theirs hands, more than willing to take a chance and give an answer. If I pose a question to the 200 students in my university science class, I always have to wait through a minute or two of silence, then plead for anyone to take a guess before a timid, quiet voice will offer a hesitant suggestion (which is almost always perfectly correct). After 14 years of school, my students have lost their initial eagerness to be called upon to give an answer, and choose to sit silently because they are fearful of appearing to be wrong. I find myself trying to reacquaint them with their creativity, trying to convince them that being wrong is just a mile marker on the way to being right. Great science can only be done if scientists think big and are willing to fail big.

It's impossible to make good art without having any number of spectacular failures. There are no shortcuts, no cookie-cutter formulas or recipes that can guarantee success after success. Instead there has to be a willingness to fail, to learn from mistakes, to build a skill set through consistent practice. That is for me the purpose of my daily practice. I can say quite readily that I had a number of ideas that I tried out today, and all failed to live up to my hopes and expectations. Yet at the same time, I had taken this unremarkable image at a place in the park where it is apparent people move small rocks around in a field, assembling then disassembling then reassembling small sculptures. It is a playground for creativity, where something is left behind to be discovered by the next person who is free to use the simple materials to give their own creativity some exercise.

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