Sunday, 10 February 2013

Being Creative Can Be Plain Hard Work

During the school year I don’t have a lot of time to read apart from professional education reading but over the Christmas break I tend to plough through a few books. My son who is a scientist living in New York, came home for Christmas and gave me Christoph Niemann’s book called ‘Abstract City’.

Niemann is an illustrator, graphic designer and author. After his studies in Germany he moved to New York in 1997. Niemann's work has appeared on the covers of The New Yorker, Newsweek, Wired and American Illustration and has won numerous awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Art Directors Club and American Illustration.

His book, ‘Abstract City’ contains the original sixteen essays from Niemann’s New York Times visual blog.

In an additional chapter Niemann explains why talent is over-rated and how yoga almost destroyed is design career.

Niemann’s book really appealed to me on a number of levels but mostly because he gives us all permission and encouragement to ‘back’ our creative thoughts. Most of us look upon the ‘creatives’ as people with special talents way beyond our own. Niemann very simply builds our creative confidence by his own admission that being creative is mostly down to plain hard work and a bit of luck and divine inspiration. Sure, some people have certain aptitudes for this and that, but fundamentally, these aptitudes mean nothing without graft. Usually it is not until we have dug very deep before we realise we have a nugget to polish. In essence ‘we are all better than we know’. K.Hahn (Outward Bound’s founder)

His graphic below tells the story. He says, “I hate it when people tell me, ‘You are talented.’ The word ‘talent’ implies a natural gift. As if there is a miraculous superpower that helps an artist produce decent work.” P258 Abstract City

The other myth Niemann debunks, is that working in a creative field is all fun and games. Like all things that are worthwhile, they take hard work and usually stress comes with this territory. This other graphic done by him is appealing. P262 Abstract City

A key message we keep hearing is that for New Zealand to improve its competitiveness in the global market place, we must foster creativity, innovation and enterprise in all aspects of society and particularly in schools.

At the heart of making a real difference to productivity is ‘smart thinking’ aligned with the courage to push the boundaries of our imagination and dare to do something different. We need to develop aspiration in our children. The desire to make a difference, tap into their self- belief and when appropriate work with others to build momentum behind their idea(s).

Schools have the responsibility to actively promote creative thinking and provide time for children to push the boundaries of their imagination.  If we can get young children practising thinking ‘outside the square’ and provide them with some thinking strategies/tools to stretch the mind, then anything is possible.

Being creative is hard work but immensely satisfying. It is a joy to see a child beam as they realise their work is of value. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle as the positive feedback is the motivation fuel for more hard work.

Reading ‘Abstract City’ has been a real tonic as not only has it been a fun read but it has reinforced so much of what I and our school believes to be fundamental, and that is, our job as educators is to provide contexts for creative endeavor (be it in the arts, science, maths or any pursuit), expectations of ‘personal best’ effort and a warm, inclusive culture that supports risk taking.


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