Can Creativity Be Taught?

Crow asking if creativity can be taught?

We get asked this question a lot. So we wrote a short essay trying to answer the question: Can creativity be taught?

To begin, we wonder if this is even a meaningful or relevant question.

If by “creativity” we mean an internal brain state that an individual possesses, and by “taught” we mean that these brain states can be improved by learning enhancing or freeing techniques — then we are barking up so many problematic trees that we will never come to any useful outcome.

We like to use an analogy about flight to get at a different approach and a different set of questions.

Why Creativity Cannot Be Taught

Creativity is like flight, it is not something that you can find somewhere hidden inside the creature flying. Flight is a property of the whole system. It is an emergent property that requires the whole embodied being, a specific set of practices, and a very specific form of environment. It is easy to ignore all of the supposed external components— bodies, gravity, air densities, thermals, updrafts, wind, heat, cooling, trees, cliffs, waves etc. Flight emerges from the middle — it requires all of its parts, and it is irreducible to any one of them.

Additionally, if we look across the highly creative spectrum of all things that keep themselves aloft (birds, floating spiders, seeds, squirrels, snakes, fish, dusts, clouds, hurricanes and much else) — for their astonishing creation none relied on an ideation driven brain based process, but rather creatively emerged via processes (self-organizing, evolutionary, system dynamics, etc).

Our engagement with creativity (those processes by which something genuinely emerges) will equally not be found in any one aspect of the system (say the brain) — it is the holistic outcome of a relational system.

(We know from the work of Extended and Enactive approaches to cognition, that cognition is itself irreducible to brain states — cognition necessarily extends across and beyond the boundary of the organism).

Creativity Is a Deliberate Process

Creative processes are inter-subjective and interdependent — they are the property of relation dominant systems (bodies +actions +environments +multiple other subjects +purpose +system dynamics +tools, etc) — where the emergent relational dynamics are what matter.

What of teaching then? If creativity is not a “thing” with a discreet location (the brain)— then teaching is simply not enough.

Creativity is not an inherent trait. Creativity, like flight, is an emergent process that is ENACTED — it co-emerges in doing. You will not find creativity in anything, including people or brains.

The question of how creativity happens cannot be reduced to “teaching and learning” — so no, creativity cannot be taught or learned. The important general question is rather “how do we collectively enact a creative process (in some context)?” Then, and only then, can we ask questions like “what do we need to learn?”— but that question will always be tied to others: “What collaborators do we need?” “What new tools and environments need to be developed?” “What new relations need to be constructed?” and most importantly “What dynamic ongoing creative processes do we need to participate in?”

The question “can creativity be taught?” can be answered, but it, and the answer, are of limited use…

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