Library of Creativity
Welcome to the Library of Creativity
What is creativity? Can it be fostered? Is it important to be able to measure it? Is creativity domain-based? Is it an important skill to master?
Creativity can be a foggy concept, ill-defined and intimidating. Knowing more about the different scholarly approaches is the starting point to navigate the different creativity tools, choosing the most appropriate ones and becoming part of the creative process.
There is no simple and standard formula for creativity, but rather many different ones coming from different perspectives, cultures, times and places. Approaching creativity and implementing creative strategies is like coming up with a new recipe: if you know your context, your goals and the people you are working with, all you need to do is find the right ingredients.
This library is here to help: whether you want to know more about the history or the nature of this notion, or more about the conditions that can foster or hamper it, this is the place to start.
This Library of Creativity is arranged by topic, and for each recommended reading we give a brief explanation of why we like it and what it’s about. Where possible we’ve tried to find articles available open-access, but you will need institutional access to academic databases to read some of the entries linked here
Creativity can be a foggy concept, ill-defined and intimidating. And academics can be wary of pinning down absolute definitions. But having a sense of what people mean when they talk about “creativity” is the starting point for choosing the most appropriate tools to help you foster it in your own practice, and amongst those you teach. We’ve put together a selection of useful readings on definitions and conceptions here.
Arthur Cropley's Definitions of Creativity
Why we like it: This article provides an overview of some definitions of creativity with particular regards to problematising its connections to personal traits, motivation and a focus on creativity as a process and as an outcome. Particularly, the paradox of creativity is addressed (the simultaneous coexistence in creativity of psychological elements that seem logically to be mutually contradictory).
Dacey: a historical perspective
Why we like it: The ill-defined nature of creativity has its roots in a long and troubled history. This straight-forward article leads us through the three stages of this notion: from prehistoric times to our contemporary conception. Such a perspective sheds light on just why there are so many different perspectives on creativity.
Kaufman and Beghetto: beyond big and little creativity
Why we like it: Can anyone be creative? Often studies on creativity focus on either eminent creativity (Big-C) or everyday creativity (small-c), but here a four-C model is suggested, which helps to expand the scope of creativity. Recognising creativity, in all its forms, is essential to fostering it. In fact, one of the main obstacles to fostering creativity in students is failure to recognise creative behaviours.
Sternberg: is there more than one creativity?
Why we like it: Creativity or creativities? Disagreement among scholars springs from the idea that creativity is not a homogenous and monolithic thing. The different focuses on creativity (on the process vs the outcome; on the individual vs the environment) could be explained by adopting the point of view that sees creativity as a plurality of elements. Understanding how diverse creativity can be leads to a more nuanced ability to recognise it – and foster it.
Beghetto: eight questions and eight answers
Why we like it: Focussing specifically on “creative thinking”, this is an accessible overview of current research constructed as a response to the following eight questions: What is creative thinking? How does creative thinking relate to other forms of thinking? How do we determine whether an idea is creative? When do we need to think creatively? How are creative possibilities generated? How do we select from possibilities we generate? Is creative thinking domain-specific? And crucially, is creative thinking teachable?
Beghetto is strong on definitions, and he argues that in order for something to be called creative it should be “meaningful, useful, effective, or meet the task constraints of a particular situation, problem or context”. But, he reassures us, this is not the coldly exclusive view it might at first seem: “the meaningful criterion can also refer to interpreting something as beautiful, moving, or aesthetically pleasing”.
Why we like it: There have been an awful lot of research articles examining perceptions of creativity in higher education, but this is one of the most readable. Paul Kleiman interviewed academics and established that their diverse views of creativity could be squeezed - with a bit of pushing and shoving - into five conceptual categories: a constraint-focused experience; a process-focused experience; a product-focused experience; a transformation-focused experience; or a fulfilment-focused experience. But in the end he makes a striking observation, which puts all the scholarly wrangling over definitions into perspective: "issues of definition that so concern creativity researchers are of little concern to those who are engaged with and interested in creativity in learning and teaching."
Nick Everett: a reformed sceptic's story
Why we like it: This is a great article for anyone sceptical about bringing active student creativity into a discipline where it hasn’t traditionally featured. It’s by an English Literature lecturer who had initial doubts about the rise of “Creative Writing” as a subject, thinking it was “beneath the threshold of valid academic activity”. But when he began to bring elements of creative practice into his teaching - tentatively and with a very specific purpose at first - it produced impressive results. “What I’ve learnt more gradually ever since”, Everett says, “is just how great and various a contribution creative work can make to [students'] academic experience, going well beyond the initial purpose for which I’d recruited it.”
Although the article is specifically about English Studies, we can see the author’s experience as a more general example of what happens when we encourage students to make something - something original and valuable, even if only to themselves.
Robyn Gibson on Teaching Creatively
Why we like it: This short and engaging article by an arts educator in higher education, makes a compelling case for "for the value of creative teaching as opposed to transmissive pedagogy" - and provides some good ideas for how to go about it, including giving students the chance to shape their own curricula. Gibson also gives a very nice summation of what creativity-fostering teaching requires: "an openness to experience, a willingness to take risks and healthy amounts of flexibility, spontaneity and open-mindedness".
Banaji et al Reviewing Rhetorics
Why we like it: This concise and very readable review gives a good overview of the divergent ideas about creativity - what the authors call "rhetorics" (though they could as easily be called "themes" or "discourses"). They cover a wide range of perspectives - from Kant to contemporary technology literature - and end up with a list of nine distinct (though not always contradictory) rhetorics, and four key questions to think about.
Sternberg: the nature of creativity
Why we like it: Is a scientific approach to creativity possible? This article is an attempt to demystify creativity by recognising its fundamental characteristics. Stenberg presents here the Investment Theory of Creativity. Six resources are recognised to be essential for creativity: intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment. The theoretical basis produced by these ideas paves the way for the creative remodelling of the classroom and the learning experience by recognising not only the natural abilities required to foster creativity but also those elements that can be influenced by a diverse teaching approach.
Practical Strategies from Laura Taddei
Why we like it: This short article is a great starting point, with lots of practical suggestions for encouraging creativity through your teaching, whatever the discipline. The article is worth reading just for this one brilliant quote from an unnamed faculty member about the importance of encouraging creative thinking: “learning happens when you trap a student in an environment where they can’t escape without thinking".
Ten Maxims from Kazerounian and Foley
Why we like it: This is an engaging article which synthesises existing ideas about creativity in the literature to propose “Ten Maxims of Creativity in Education” which “constitute an educational environment conducive to fostering creativity in students” (p.764). You could easily modify or condense their list – which includes a call to normalise ambiguity (Maxim 2) and a simple reminder to encourage risk (Maxim 7) and to reward creativity (Maxim 4). But as a general concept it provides simple and actionable guidelines. Think of it as a sort of rubric for creativity-fostering teaching.
Barrett and Donnelly: pathways for fostering creativity
Why we like it: This is an excellent overview of why we should encourage student creativity in all areas of Higher Education - for “personal, economic and social reasons” (with social reasons paramount). Barrett and Donnelly remind us to ask ourselves whether we, as educators, are “enthusiastic and playful about our subjects”? One of the best things about this chapter is the way the authors break approaches to fostering creativity clearly into “three pathways” - “speedy techniques”, “social and supportive factors” and “whole-curriculum change”. This really helps make the entire concept less nebulous and aspirational, turning it into something solid and practical.
Why we like it: Isa Jahnke, Tobias Haertel and Johannes Wildt aren’t trying to work out what creativity itself is; they’re trying to work out how those teaching in higher education perceive it – and then whether those perceptions have any use. Based on interviews with dozens of academics, they’ve produced a “six-facets model” for the perception of creativity: self-reflective learning; independent learning; showing curiosity and motivation; producing something; showing multi-perspectives; and reaching for original, entirely new ideas.
The authors suggest that identifying which of these facets you’re pursuing in your own teaching can be a useful way to hone your lesson planning and course design.
Larry Livingson’s Student-Centred Approach
Why we like it: Livingston starts with the rousing premise that all students are inherently creative. If that’s true, he says, then the ultimate question “is not how to teach creativity, but rather how to understand, harvest, and build up the very creativity that every student already possesses and uses”. He has various ideas about how to do that, but the most interesting one involves creating something more like a researcher-supervisor dynamic than a traditional classroom delivery mode, even when teaching undergraduates – a dynamic designed to allow students to explore, take risks, be creative
Douglas P. Newton: the role of mood and emotions
Why we like it: The influence of emotions and moods on the cognitive process is often overlooked by educational policies and by teachers when planning a lesson. However, they play an important role in the teaching and learning experience. Moods and emotions are here examined with their link to creativity, exploring how emotions influence the creative process.
Beghetto & Kaufman: the importance of the learning environment
Why we like it: Beghetto and Kaufman carefully explore the ways creativity can be fostered. Moving from some suggestions on how to recognise creative behaviours, this article outlines discrete methods to foster creativity. Often teachers recognise creativity in theory but have difficulty putting ideas into practice: either worried about a class full of creative students or out of a lack of confidence in the tools to use. This article dispels these doubts by providing guidelines that can be easily implemented within any discipline. The authors’ recommendations include:
- Incorporating creativity in your everyday teaching.
- Providing opportunities for choice, imagination and exploration.
- Monitoring the motivational messages being sent by one’s classroom practices.
- Approaching creativity and academic learning as a means to other ends, rather than as ends in themselves.
- Modelling and supporting creativity in the classroom.
Why we like it: There are a number of common barriers to creativity. This article spots these barriers and provides simple and practical solutions. Often we are surrounded by a creative environment and creative colleagues, but we are not tuned to notice it, or else time constraints or old habits tamper with the possibility of tackling an issue from different and innovative perspectives. Five problems are addressed and solutions sought: Defining the Problem Incorrectly; Judging Ideas Too Quickly; Stopping at the First Acceptable Idea; Lack of Support; and Hostility to Sharing Knowledge.
Creative practice in any field or form involves a process - or processes. In this section we present some readings that dig into processes and practices of creativity.
Kerry Freedman: Creativity in a Contemporary Context
Why we like it: Kerry Freedman is a well known art educator and an expert in visual culture and visual literacy. In this article she proposes a contemporary reconsideration of creativity, taking into account "the contexts and purposes of its process and outcomes'". According to Freedman, creativity in practice involves seven elements: it requires critical reflection; is based on interest; is a learning process; is functional; is a social activity; depends on reproduction (bringing nuance to the more reductive conceptions based on "newness"); and is a form of leadership. Freedman expands on each of these in the context of art education, but the article has great relevance for any study on creativity.
Why we like it: This snappy blogpost from the Farnham Street website goes with a very straightforward three-step conception of the creative process: 1. Understand a system; 2. Step outside that system and seek a subversion of its rules; 3. Make something new from what you find in the process. This is based on Douglas Hofstadter's idea of "Jootsing" (Jumping Out Of The System) as key to creativity, and the article explains it very neatly indeed.
So where are we headed with all this? If people are being creative, then new things are happening, new ideas and theories are being generated, and risks are being taken. In this section we’ve gathered some readings that take stock of current research, present emerging concepts, or suggest some alternative approaches to the tried-and-tested creativity pedagogies.
Plucker: taking stock of where creativity studies is now
Why we like it: This is a lively piece, from a senior creativity scholar, taking stock of the current state of creativity studies, and considering how to improve its impact. Plucker has some compelling suggestions for what needs to happen next: “More collaborations outside the field, encouragement of non-Western perspectives, improvements related to interventions and assessments, and careful study of demographic differences in creativity.” He also points out the lack of input in the field from obvious creative sectors such as the fashion industry. There's a lot packed into this short article!
Why we like it: The concept of "Design Thinking" is well known, but this intriguing case study from Peter Robbins introduces something a little different: "Art Thinking" (a term coined by Amy Whittaker). Art Thinking makes more space for ambiguity, and in a real-world setting, Robbins explains, it “has the capacity to liberate its practitioners from the user experience that characterises Design Thinking and can thus offer more creative, radical and disruptive options”.
There are some other great incidental points made in the article - not least about the relationship between scientific innovation and artistic practice: Nobel science laureates are 17 times more likely than their peers to be a painter, 12 times more likely to write poetry, and four times more likely to be a musician.
Programmatic Assessment: a case study
Why we like it: Implementing new educational tools and exploring new teaching strategies should also develop new ways of assessing the results. Programmatic assessment is one of those new assessing methods. This case report describes the experience at Maastricht University with the use of programmatic assessment.
Pedagogy of Imagination: seven original imaginative teaching methods
Why we like it: This article, which is the synthesis of a doctoral thesis, discusses the imaginative teaching approach in Steiner Schools. In particular, it focuses on the seven original imaginative teaching methods (drama, exploration, storytelling, routine, arts, discussion and empathy) as they are adopted in Steiner Schools. The article considers whether such approaches can inspire other schools.
A Model for Programmatic Assessment
Why we like it: Can programmatic assessment be reliable? Moving from the perspective that the learning programme should be learner-centred, favouring holistic approaches to learning (as opposed to atomistic mastery-oriented learning) and deep learning strategies, this article provides a model for programmatic assessment. The discussion is well-grounded in theoretical notions around assessment, giving examples of a structure that can serve as guidelines for the implementation of such a strategy.