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Creativity Takes Courage

By Brent Blalock, PYP Visual Arts Teacher at SCIS Hongqiao

When I meet a new person and they ask, “what do you do?”, I typically say “I teach art” because “I cultivate minds and talents through diverse mediums of materials in the pursuit of creativity and innovation” is a mouthful. Their response is usually: “that’s pretty cool”. Yes, in reality, drawing, painting, sculpture, design, etc… are all “pretty cool” skills to practice, but “creative behavior” goes so much deeper than art skills. In my opinion, the most useful and powerful tool known to all humankind and across all disciplines is CREATIVITY. And on a daily basis, I get to develop students’ creativity and watch their confidence, self-expression, and self-worth blossom.

Without creativity, ideas are mere thoughts, explorations become recitations, the spark of life snuffed out. Creativity is the courage to try some new way, knowing and expecting that it might fail, but in that, you may gain some new knowledge or idea. It is exactly for this reason that I find it necessary to teach creativity as the most important life skill. 

With each lesson or project in the classroom, the students have one major problem to solve. Most lessons start with learning a technique or medium and then they must use that medium to create original artwork. For instance, the current grade four art unit: “Making connections to the world around us can help inspire our own creations” is all about inspiration. The students are taught how to make something out of papier-mâché then they have to brainstorm, plan, and create a unique work of art using papier-mâché. It is a very time-consuming medium to work with and there is plenty of opportunity for failure along the way. But the type of failure I am referring to is the kind that makes the artist stronger, wiser, and more skillful.  

The first challenge is for the student to sketch their idea in three dimensions. Once the plan is completed, the student then begins to assemble an armature for their sculpture by using newspaper, masking tape, cardboard, and wire. During this stage, the students are also considering stability and durability. Once the armature is finished, the student applies newspaper dipped in a glue/water mixture and completely coats the armature. After this dries it is ready for paint. The base coat is done with acrylic paints. Finally, the student can use paint pens and various materials to create the final details. Only then does the sculpture take on a life of its own.

Every student ends up with a unique work of art that represents themselves on some personal level. But even more importantly, they end up with a rich experience and a sharpened sense of how to navigate failure to succeed. 

This type of lesson is rich in developing creativity and is hard to teach because the student must be a natural risk-taker, curious and confident in order to achieve their individual plan. It would be much easier to help every student create a papier-mâché balloon and then use paint to make a colorful design. But the result would be 100 very similar creations and lacking risk, the students would have missed the opportunity to practice creativity and innovation as a skill.

Building multiple opportunities to fail or succeed within the lesson enables the student to take creative risks and that’s a universal skill that if learned early, will benefit them for the rest of their lives.  

Creativity Takes Courage features in our Communitas School Magazine, a publication written by and for our community and features some of the initiatives and accomplishments at our individual campuses.

SCIS. Innovative Thinkers.

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