SchoolArts Magazine

NOV 2014

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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P O I N T O F V I E W Thinking Inside the Box 12 November 2014 SchoolArts Continued on page 44. A s the conversation in the field of education turns more and more to creativity, teachers are imploring their students to "think outside the box." Recent studies, how- ever, suggest that this plea may actually yield the opposite result. What is this "box" that we should be getting out of? According to neurologist Kenneth Heilman, author of Creativity and the Brain (Psychology Press, 2005), cre- ativity involves coming up with some- thing new, as well as shutting down the brain's habitual response and let- ting go of conventional solutions. Looking Around Inside the Box When trying to solve a problem, most of us begin with familiar solutions. However, if the answer doesn't come, our brains begin searching for alterna- tives. We search for connections in both familiar and more distant areas, pulling thoughts together into a single new idea that enters consciousness. This is the "aha" moment of insight. Now the brain must evaluate the idea it has just generated. Creativity requires this constant shift- ing between both convergent and divergent thinking— of looking around both "inside the box" and venturing out of it. Synthesis In History In her book, Creativity from Con- straints (Springer Publishing, 2006), Patricia D. Stokes argues that being completely free and without con- straints actually hinders problem solving and creativity. History is filled with examples of breakthroughs that are not the result of abandoning the box, but rather finding a unique synthesis of "in the box" and "out of the box" thinking. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked together for eight years to find the new way of representing the world that came to be known as Cubism. Claude Monet limited his subject matter in order to focus on changing light and atmo- spheric effects, and Piet Mondrian continued to reduce his options until his work contained only the most dis- tilled elements. The Box as Fertile Ground Although the "box" can imply con- straint, other boxes are considered fertile areas for ideas and exploration. The "black box theater" is nearly syn- onymous with experimentation and suggests a space that is flexible, ver- satile, and easy to change. Galleries are sometimes referred to as "white boxes"—clean, open spaces that are perfect for exhibiting all kinds of art. And, of course, there are those "tool- boxes" that educators fill with useful teaching strategies and methodolo- gies. All boxes are clearly not created equal. In her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life: A Practi- cal Guide (Simon and Schuster, 2003), acclaimed choreographer Twyla Tharp describes her way of utilizing "the box." She begins every new dance with a literal cardboard box. She writes the name of the project on the outside of the box and proceeds to fill it up with every item that went into creating that work, including clip- pings, videos, notes, and photos. She states: . . . a box is like soil to me. It's basic, earthy, elemental. It's home. It's what I can always go back to when I need to regroup and keep my bearings. Knowing that the box is always there gives me the freedom to venture out, be bold, dare to fall flat on my face. Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box. Sharon Vatsky Creativity involves coming up with something new, as well as letting go of conventional solutions.

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