Culture and creativity

Originally posted 2006: Several more recent posts have extended my thinking on this topic, in particular thinking about use of terms ‘arts’, ‘culture’, ‘heritage’ and ‘creative industries’ in the cultural sector.

I’ve been thinking about the relative validity of creativity and culture in education, what they mean together and how they interact. In many ways, perhaps as a reaction to the overemphasis on bodies of knowledge in the National Curriculum, culture has come to be seen to represent the status quo (continuity, knowledge, authority, heritage, national identity) whereas creativity represents something far cooler and acceptable (innovation, joy, productivity, challenge, individuality, style). They seem to operate in the following pairs of concepts, with the number 1’s more about creativity or activity and the number 2’s more about culture or education:

1) Cultural Studies (‘them’, other cultures, diversity)
2) Cultural Heritage (‘us’, our history and values)

1) Skills (virtuosity, doing, showing)
2) Entertainment (consuming, seeing, interpreting)

1) Creativity (imagining, inventing, making new culture)
2) Critique (questioning, researching, analysing)

1) Aesthetics (form, design, quality)
2) Values (meaning, ethics)

I have a hunch, supported by observation of a lot of creative learning initiatives, that creativity is meaningless without culture and vice versa. Projects that focus on creativity often suffer by not exploring specific themes (except ‘what is creativity?’), not developing critical enquiry with cultural artefacts and not doing research.

I’m not at all opposed to creativity. I just feel that without application to knowledge, history or values there is no effect and no dialogue. Creative activity remains superficial, a kind of marketing of itself as a concept.


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