Friday, November 14, 2014

Creativity = Time?

It's critique day, the students have their work lined up on the tables, ready to present. They were all working on the same assignment, though they may have taken vastly different approaches. They all had the same amount of time to work on the project (usually 2-4 weeks in my clay classes), but during the critique, several students explain that they ran out of time to make or finish their work.

I can't think of a critique I've led where someone didn't mention that they ran out of time on the project. Of course some students have legitimate challenges on their time: kid (and adults) get sick, tests and jobs interfere with studio time, and accidents happen, causing clay to collapse or dry too quickly. Throughout the class, different students experience busy weeks or difficult days at different times.
The progress of this flowery sea horse was as interesting to see as the final piece.

Last week, I wrote about banning the phrase "I am not creative" from the studio. I've been thinking about my reasoning ever since. In that post I argued that creativity is closely linked with time spent. I was thinking of my own experience, but also looking at examples from current and past classes.

In my (generalized) examples from just this quarter, I had students with more or less confidence (both students who identified themselves with a phrase like "I am not creative" and students who probably do consider themselves creative) spend significant time on projects that were impressive for the unusual approach, extra effort, impressive size or extra level of detail and consideration put into the piece. I would say that "creativity" is a reasonable, general term that encompasses all of the items above.

I banned the phrase "I am not creative" before our most recent critique, and again there were impressive pieces, creative pieces, that came in from different members of the class, though no one specifically identified themselves as not belonging to the creative group. The most creative (challenging, impressive, interesting) pieces were not necessarily done by the same people who put forth the extra effort in previous critiques. What the impressive pieces this time did have in common was that they were larger, more complex, more carefully made, or more challenging in construction than other works.
I'd be curious to know what people think this heart amidst trees, buildings, cars and tree stumps is meant to communicate.
It's tough to precisely identify the "effort" that students put into a work. I try to track how much time each student spends in the studio and at home, but it isn't always precise. I also try to approximate an assessment of the elusive "effort" each student puts into an individual piece with a section in my grading rubric about "challenge" (i.e. did the student challenge him or herself in this project?) but this can be subjective.

Though I may not be able to find a perfect algorithm for grading effort on a particular project, the students who share the studio space see who is working hard, who is in the studio all the time, and who is struggling. They also notice who is not in the studio. So on critique day, the students are presenting their work to the teacher for a grade, but they're also presenting their work to their classmates, who've often been observers for much of the process.

I like to let the students lead the critique. With a good group, in particular, the critique can be more interesting, more helpful, and more dynamic without the voice of authority interrupting the discussion and giving everyone the "right" answer. The best, most interesting, most fun and most rewarding thing to see in a critique is when the student have something interesting to talk about.

This work was inspired by an artist: Grandmaster Flash

The thing about having something interesting to talk about in an art critique, is that we've got to have something interesting to look at so we can talk about it. Those students who have put in the effort, who have tried to make something, generally have something interesting to talk about. Even students who show broken work or other evidence of mistakes, can show their classmates something interesting and worth discussing. The hardest critique discussions to lead are those where the students have done the bare minimum (or less) and don't have much to talk about.

I have an idea of who in my classes might consider themselves creative and who might not. But when I go to grade individual projects, I don't necessarily see much correlation between the "creative" students and the creative work, or, for that matter, between the "I am not creative, but..." students and the boring work.

I do, however, see a great deal of correlation between the students who are in the studio a lot and the creative, challenging work. I also notice a correlation between the students who have some sort of temporary time challenge (illness, work or family problem, etc), and work in a given critique that is smaller, less finished, less challenging or less interesting than the rest.

the assignment here was to persuade the viewer.

I'm still leaning towards a fairly simple definition of what makes someone creative: that creative people spend (more) time on what they create. However, I would also suggest that students who see themselves as more creative (or are viewed as creative or  rewarded and praised for creativity) may be more likely to choose to spend more time, sometimes vast amount of time, on a piece. A student who identifies as being creative may also be more willing to try a new approach, rebuild when the piece collapses or even scrap their original idea and start over entirely.

One piece of information I seem to be missing, or guessing at, is the students' opinion. I wonder if they'd agree with me. Maybe I should ask them.

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