The weight of creativity

There is an intriguing twist in this simple tale. It comes from the book ‘Art and Fear’, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. At the beginning of term a ceramics teacher divided the class into two groups. He told the first group that they would be graded on the quantity of work that they produced – the amount of clay used. He explained that at the end of term they should bring to the assessment all the work they had produced and that it would be weighed. Students would get an ‘A’ for 50lbs of work, a ‘B’ for 40lbs and so forth.

The second group was told that they would be graded on the quality of their work and that at the end of term they should present for assessment just one pot of the highest quality they could achieve.

Apparently the results were very clear. the highest quality work, that which was most orginal, effective and creative was all produced by the first group.

Bayles and Orland explained that: “It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality’ group had sat theorising about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

I like the story because, although we know about the value of creative play, of taking risks and failing, much of our actual pedagogy seems to reflect the experience of the second group of students. We tend to follow a risk averse process of developing and refining an idea in pursuit of a single fully resolved outcome. It is a very different process to that of the first group who just make stuff – lots of it.

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About Dan

Senior Advisor, Art Inspector, Member of the Expert Advisory Group for Art, Consultant working with NSEAD, IOE, QCA, UCE, UOG. Currently lecturer at UCL working on a project in Kazakhstan to develop text books for a new art curriculum.
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