Initially, a blank page can seem daunting, yet if we allow ourselves to sit there long enough, there is also incredible potential. Here, we can harness possibility and tangibly connect meaningful ideas of value to the bigger picture. By filling in a ‘blank space’, be it literal or metaphorical, our previous assumptions are challenged, and our underlying concerns exposed. More often than not this process makes room for engaging dialogue with others and sometimes innovative expressions that bring new perspectives as well as aesthetic pleasure.
Creativity has often been defined as an ‘ability to imagine, or the use of original ideas to make something’. This process plays out everywhere, in the macro visions and micro details of life. It is quiet evolution, it is sudden change, it is painful development and it is beautiful movement. It is, in fact, a faithful, constant presence despite being wildly unpredictable by nature.
Traditionally we relate creativity to the ‘industries’ of design and artistic practice. Naturally, we imagine it is for people and organisations who regularly embark on a literal creation of something new – a transformation of tangible matter from one form to another. And it is. However, when we talk about the creative process, we discover the application is in fact much larger. Indeed, there are innumerable paths and frameworks that can to be used to get us from one place or space to another in every area of life. If we embrace the notion of creative process then it becomes a powerful and essential way of shaping outcomes objectively, as well as a way of recording an important and valuable journey that goes way beyond the traditional artistic sphere.
A few weeks ago, I attended a masterclass led by William Ury, a best-selling author, anthropologist, negotiator and co-founder of the Harvard Programme of Negotiation. His field of expertise is conflict, enabling individuals and groups to navigate through situations of gridlock and towards places of open discussion and hopeful resolution. From Columbia to Korea and areas in the Middle East to the US government, he’s facilitated discussions at the highest level and in a myriad of environments. It is inspiring peace-making, and much needed in today’s volatile climate. After the session I asked him about his experiences, and he told me how he’d been able to resolve seemingly impossible scenarios time and time again by employing specific methods and skills he learnt along the way. We quickly got onto the concept of design thinking and the incredible similarities between creative processes and negotiation techniques. In fact, the more we chatted, the more clearly the parallels became: he was quite literally employing the same kind of reframing methodologies, experimentation, visual perception and problem solving that artists and designers use every day when presented with a client brief or artistic commission.
As an educator as well as a designer, I’ve been exploring artistic practice and its application into a range of scenarios and industries through my business blancc_space. Originally starting my career as a knitwear designer, I’ve come to see creative process as a bit like a weaving of threads throughout many facets of life. Fibres and elements intertwine to form something deeply textured as well as a wider overall surface that tells a story when we take a step back.
From classrooms to museums, universities to cathedrals, businesses to colleges and farms to theatres, I’ve been facilitating, teaching and learning about creative process for the last 10 years. In various arenas and environments, whether working with 6- or 66-year-olds, I’ve discovered that the creative process is not so much a formula to be taught but is rather something that is open for exploration. Indeed, working with children and adults alike has taught me the growing importance and presence of Art & Design and Design & Technology as school subjects that enable and encourage innovative change throughout society.
The RSA held an event called ‘Strong Arts, Strong Schools’ last month, a gathering of impassioned educational experts and artists exploring what the arts and cultural learning offers schools and their students. The discussion that focused around the role of Art & Design in providing 'a rich education for all children’ is cause for celebration. Indeed, the more networks that work together to promote the value of art and design in schools the better. However, there must be action as well as dialogue. Now is an exciting moment for education to embody what it seeks to facilitate: environments for individuals to flourish organically and collaborate effectively as part of a connected, creative community.
People like William Ury are helping government leaders to engage creatively in meaningful, and indeed world-changing, discussions that build bridges across severe chasms of miscommunication and disruption. Looking at Ury’s experiences, we can clearly see the value of creative process on all kinds of disciplines, and yet it is unlikely that his careers advisor encouraged Art or Design as key subject choices for building a career in political negotiation.
Indeed ‘creativity creates more space than it takes up’, according to author William Paul Young, and we as designers, artists, and cultural practitioners should continue to champion this fact. Within the current system, the cracks are now showing and to the detriment of present students, teachers and parents alike. The need for a new approach – one that will require continued innovation and evolution towards sustainable, effective change – is clear. We must grasp the fact, in a wider sense, that art class isn’t just learning that blue and yellow make green, important as that is. It is also about foundational human learning that embeds profound critical thinking and practices into the minds of its students. Cultivating the art of mixing and experimenting with hues and textures in order to create a more beautiful and harmonious landscape, for example – enabling one to dare to create in, as well as far beyond, the classroom.
Join us at the RSA on 27 June to celebrate the 2017/18 RSA Student Design Awards programme and design as a force for social impact. To hear artists and education experts share their ideas on why schools should be interested in the arts and how we should be looking to understand their impact, watch the ‘Strong Arts, Strong Schools’ event here. We’ve also launched our Cultural Learning Evidence Champions’ Network – a national network committed to increasing the use of evidence-rich practice in arts and cultural learning.