Creativity

Ponte VeccioI was reading an article in the paper recently about creativity falling in the US since the nineties (it’s in Dutch). That got me thinking.

What’s it about?

The above article is in Dutch, but the gist is this: since the sixties, there’s a standardized test for creativity, the Torrance test. Since that time, groups of children have been given this test. Until 1990, the test results were getting better, but since then, they’ve been falling.

Interestingly, this is exactly opposite to the Flynn effect, which is the effect that each generation since the early 20th century has been gaining about 10 IQ points.

In essence, our children are getting smarter, but less creative.

So what?

We don’t really need creative people, do we? Those lazy musicians, painters, and writers are just wasting money and don’t really produce anything that any schmuck couldn’t do just as well. Right?

Having personally invested a decade or two in practicing writing, I disagree. Being creative is not that easy. Sitting in front of a television set or computer each night, watching TV shows and playing games, that’s easy. It’s also fun. However, it isn’t creative. Going to a day job and doing the same thing day-in-day-out is easy, but it’s not creative either.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Creativity isn’t just for lazy musicians and writers. It’s a vital tool that companies desire in their employees. I’ve worked in IT for nearly two decades now, and I can tell you: the best people in IT are those who know how to creatively solve problems.

Doing the same thing day-in-day-out might be easy, but if you can do it differently in half the time, you’ve just increased your value to the company two-fold. If a problem occurs and you can’t handle it because you can only do what you always did, then you lose. It’s the age of creativity, so we need to get with the program.

Of course, I haven’t even touched on the fact that creative people produce all the television shows, books, and games we greedily consume.

Why is creativity falling?

Dr. K.H. Kim, who researched this subject extensively, points to standardized schooling as the culprit, in the US at least. She found that children who are creative problem solvers often don’t do well in a standardized environment that doesn’t challenge them or facilitates their creativity.

In the Netherlands too, there’s an increasing focus of the government on standardized output. Schools use standardized tests and rate children regularly from a young age. A low score closes doors to higher education immediately. The government funds universities by the number of diplomas they output; in other words, they reward universities for making things as easy as possible. Students are saddled with high loans that they will have to pay back with the high-paying jobs university opens up for them. This leads to a second hurdle which I’ll get to.

Somehow, people still end up in artistic professions. However, this is further discouraged by making the job prospects non-existing.

A friend of mine’s a musician and she’s scraping by and couldn’t afford a place to live if her partner didn’t have a ‘regular’ job. From what she’s told me, and what I’ve heard from others, there’s almost no way to make a living in music. And that’s really when that student loan starts to bite.

Another friend of mine was a painter, his partner a journalist, but they got out of both lines of work because they had to feed two children.

If I myself ever manage to get a novel published, I won’t be giving up my day job any time soon. The status quo among writers is having a second job. My wife is a comic books artist, but only as a side job, because comic book artists are as unlikely to be able to afford the rent as writers, musicians and painters.

Conclusion

I can only conclude creativity is prized, but nobody is actually willing to pay for that creativity. Or at least, they’re not willing to pay for fostering it in children. Or to foster the creative professions that breed creativity.

Personally, I feel that should change. So whenever somebody starts spewing garbage about lazy artists and wasting money on culture, point them to this article.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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