On Creativity

I read Stephen Downes’ blog regularly; I always find it thought-provoking and interesting. Today was no exception.

Today’s entry, entitled No Paradox Here (go read it at the source) inspired me to think about my own work at The Norwegian Film School, where creativity is our bread and butter…

Specifically, Downes quotes Spencer, who writes:

Creativity: It happens when students have freedom and limitations

His response is:

Creativity is possible even if there are limitations, but only if there is freedom.

Well…not exactly. And it depends on how you apply limitations and freedom.

We are a school for creative artists (filmmakers), and the entire programme is built around the conscious application of limitations in order to stimulate creativty. It’s not our own invention by any stretch, but we have over the years refined teaching methods that enable the students to both explore their own creativity and push the limits their own abilities through the imposition of limitations.

In our experience, too much freedom stifles creativity rather than encouraging it. (And yes, we do realise misguided use of limitations can also stifle creativity.) By specifiying a series of condititions for each film exercise the students are given we give them a well-defined area to explore, encouraging them to make mistakes and take chances within those limits.

There is theory for this, and we lean on Vygotski with his development of the concepts scaffolding and zone of proximal development, and also conscious of the importance of letting the students reach a state of flow. Being an arts school where all the teaching staff are practicing filmmakers, not trained educators has led us to set up weekly staff meetings where we discuss the students development, future teaching plans and the practical and theoretical aspects of this pedagogy.

So, in this case, Spencer is correct: creativity will only happen where there are both limitations and freedom — the limitations designed to encourage creativity and the freedom to explore within these limitations.

But Downes is also correct: this is no paradox. Rather, it is a necessary condition for creativity.

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