Becoming Creative

Brian Chippendale

Brian Chippendale

In college I read a lot of Andre Gide. The Immoralist — wow! I still look at it occasionally, although these days I am more likely to rewatch Jack Nicholson in Wolf. (Same idea.)

One of my favorite Gide quotes is, “You have to lose your reputation to save your life.” It came to mind when I read an article in the New York Times:

“How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off”
Adam Grant January. 30, 2016

“They learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper….”

Referring to a couple of books, Grant describes something we may be familiar with: good grades at top schools, music lessons, volunteer work, Ivy college, top law or business school, and then a top law or consulting firm. Success all the way, and no creativity. Such a person never says to a teacher, mentor, or boss: “You are completely wrong!”

At Pratt where I have taught for 40+ years, I notice my students are “better” (SATs, writing, etc.) but less creative than they were several decades ago. In the past I might give an assignment and get a project that had nothing to do with the assignment. Not any more.

In my book, Visionary Creativity: How New Worlds are Born, I write: “Ask yourself what in your field is obvious to everyone else but seems somehow not right to you, and then ask, “What if?” Doing so just might open productive lines of exploration.”

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