The Future of Creativity

In our schools, our businesses, and our homes


| July-August 2008



Creativity

image by Adam Larson

This article is part of a package on creativity. For more, read " Why Essays Are So Damn Boring ," " Bright Ideas from Baltimore’s Citizens ," " The Creativity Conceit ," " Art + Science= Inspiration ," and " Putting the Arts Back into the Arts ."

Adult life begins in a child’s imagination,” said poet Dana Gioia, speaking before the graduating class of Stanford University in June 2007. “And we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.” By that, Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, meant that we’ve pawned off the task of imagination to commercial manufacturers of marketing and entertainment. They feed us an endless stream of stock imagery and flashy distractions—“content” that comes predigested and does little or nothing in the way of encouraging us to form our own mental images, ideas, or stories.

Gioia’s speech lamented a cultural impoverishment that he said was evident in a widespread lack of interest in the arts and artists, a situation that he blamed on the media’s preoccupation with entertainers and athletes. Indeed, some members of Stanford’s graduating class were rather unimpressed with the selection of Gioia as speaker: They didn’t think he was famous enough. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t really show up on TV—or YouTube or MySpace or anywhere that might have given him some credibility or at least name recognition among the graduates. It’s hard for scientists, writers, painters, and thinkers to compete with the continual stream of spectacle produced by the likes of Britney Spears and David Beckham, in a market where young people spend 44.5 hours each week in front of computer, TV, and video-game screens.

Much has been discussed about whether all these hours of screen time have contributed to the explosion of ADD, aggression, autism, and obesity in children and teenagers. What I’d like to consider is what kids are not doing during those 44.5 hours of screen time (besides not reading Gioia’s poetry) and how it could haunt them in later life.

“We’re engaged in a huge experiment where we’ve fundamentally changed the experience of childhood,” says Ed Miller, senior staff member for the Maryland-based Alliance for Childhood. “We don’t know what the outcome is going to be. We’re robbing kids of their birthright: the access to free, unstructured play of their own making.”

Note that Miller—who has worked as a professor, policy analyst, and editor of the Harvard Education Letter—didn’t just say “Kids are not playing like they used to.” By “free and unstructured play,” he means activity that is unencumbered by adult direction and does not depend on manufactured items or rules imposed by someone other than the kids themselves. He is referring to the kind of play that is not dependent on meddling or praise or validation from well-meaning parents on the sidelines. In fact, free and unstructured play is so encompassing for children that the entire adult world evaporates; children lose themselves in their own world completely. Most anyone who’s ever jolted a child out of this state with a call for lunch or bedtime would attest that the child’s reaction is akin to being awakened from a dream.

ronjon
10/25/2010 10:12:49 AM

after reading this as an young adult it is very alarming beacuse iv always felt that tv controls almost every aspect of our lives it pretty much dose the thinking for us it tells us what to eat, what to wear and even what cool nowdays. It even tells us how to raise our kids and what our lives should be like i think we need to turn the tv off and wake up the goverment wants us to be stupid they want the tv to think for us because after all if we saw it on the new then its the truth right....


elizabeth _1
9/23/2009 10:26:57 AM

Yes, sorely disappointed as I was at Gioia's speech at Stanford. We no longer need people to tell us what is wrong but instead we need people to tell us their visions and dreams and desires. We need people who are willing to take risks for their vision. Gioia took some positive actions such as enacting "The Big Read," but to me while listening to his speech at Stanford, all I could think was this man has the power in his hands and all he can tell me is what I shouldn't do as a parent or participant in this society. I wanted to hear action statements. I want to hear them now...........Mr. Landesman?


ed miller
8/26/2008 9:35:21 AM

The disappearance of free play from childhood--not just because of addictive technologies but because of children's growing alienation from nature--is a looming catastrophe every bit as frightening as worldwide climate change, but much less widely recognized. The sky is not falling, but the seas are in fact rising. Luckily, many people are working to educate the public on both issues. For more about play, see www.allianceforchildhood.org.


ed miller
8/26/2008 9:33:41 AM

The disappearance of free play from childhood--not just because of addictive technologies but because of children's growing alienation from nature--is a looming catastrophe every bit as frightening as worldwide climate change, but much less widely recognized. The sky is not falling, but the seas are in fact rising. Luckily, many people are working to educate the public on both issues. For more about play, see www.allianceforchildhood.org.


shannon keegan
8/12/2008 12:54:08 PM

As a professional “creative”, I looked forward to Utne’s article on the Future of Creativity, only to be sorely disappointed to find yet another “The Sky is Falling” rant. Our children are growing up differently than we did---poor things, let’s save them. The topic is huge, perhaps too huge for a tidy article in a magazine to tackle. But how unfortunate for it to be reduced to a rolling snowball of fearfulness (ADD! Autism! Those damned videos games!) Looking forward into the face of creativity takes outrageous courage, because we are in the midst of tremendous change, and our children are the enactors of that change. And change, like progress, has always beaten a path that leaves some damage along the way. This is not new. But it is more acute and more visible than it’s ever been before, acute due to the rate of change and visible due to our burgeoning media. I’m not talking about our children being damaged, but rather our (adult, hence, old-world) view of creativity or even intelligence, really, taking the hit. The fact of the matter is, the dominance of the left brain, alpha-numeric paradigm is slipping. Rather than envisioning a trip back to the dark ages, we might spend some time looking forward to a more fluid, less materially ambitious, less regimented society. Just imagine what it might create? --Shannon Keegan


jeannine ouellette
7/4/2008 8:41:58 PM

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