Creativity & The Arts

Perhaps one of the greatest pitfalls in contemporary society is the absence of the arts and creative thinking in our psyche. To that end, Ken Robinson’s TedTalk really resonated with me, as did Austin Kleon’s presentation. I think the way the arts are presented to people is completely misconstrued. Math and the sciences are important, there’s no doubt about that. But what the TedTalk reminded me off was that poignant scene from Dead Poet’s Society (1989), where Robin William’s character, John Keating, says:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

I think art is what defines our humanity; particularly, the unique cultures and societies spread throughout the globe. Now, I’m not a poet by any means. But I do believe John Keating’s message here can apply for all the arts. To put less of an emphasis on this discipline is truly unfortunate, especially considering that K-12 school budgets have been consistently declining over the years. And what gets slashed first? Arts programs.

Beyond the cultural capital which art affords, it’s also a mechanism that drives creativity. Those who read, learn from others, and physically try new things themselves gain valuable experience through engaging in scholarly discourse and creative exercise. My understanding of creative people in business is that they are the visionaries who guide innovation whereas the less creative people are those who work to carry out that dream, sustaining the company’s mission.

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The most creative ideas are the ones which drive the economy up through their groundbreaking principles. Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Amazon are all examples of tech industries which employed unconventional, creatively-driven notions to make themselves corporate empires. Google employs a famous 20% policy that allows their employees to spend 20% of their hours to mess around and pursue their own work-related passions. This has become characteristic of many Silicon Valley entities.

Woody Allen once said something along the lines of, “if you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative”. I think if you were to ask an average person if failing is a good thing, they’d say absolutely not. The idea of failing is thought of as undesirable and avoided at all costs, which promotes the now standardized principle of “playing it safe”. But playing it safe isn’t always productive. Pushing people to think differently and encouraging them to try new things, even if it didn’t work, should be praised. If it took someone 100 tries to do something, and they get it the last time, that just means they first found 99 ways that didn’t work. As Ken Robinson states, “our minds are mined for a particular commodity”. This commodity is the fundamentals of knowing the basics for maintaining a regular job. In fact, those who are encouraged to take a unique route separate from the herd could excel. Robinson brings up the case of the ballet dancer who ended up making millions and starting her own company. I doubt she would have been able to accomplish this had been forced to stay in the regular school system.

In summary, I agree completely with the points made by Robinson and do think that creativity, failure, and the arts should be encouraged within school systems. For that to happen though, a larger educational overhaul would need to take place in Congress to put more money into the education system rather than stripping it. Unfortunately, I don’t see anything like this happening in this administration, but I certainly think we can get the ball rolling. But it makes me wonder: how many musicians, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and other sorts of artistic innovators have been lost because societal pressures and institutional negligence hasn’t afforded them the opportunities to pursue their passions? If all people are born creative, how come creativity is in such short supply these days? I think it’s because of a popular system that promotes “good enough” over risk-taking and failure. At the end of the day, good ideas are hard to come by, so we should work harder to try and get more of them.

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