Creativity: emotions and healing

‘Luce found a path to healthy by investing energy into a creative project’, writes Marie Forgeard in her chapter in the The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. She opens her chapter talking about a writer and social worker Gerri Luce who began writing during a hospitalisation. Forgeard mentions that even ‘clinicians noticed that some individuals receiving treatment for severe psychiatric difficulties display high levels of motivation and inspiration for creative projects (p. 319). Forgeard highlights some of the work that explains the hypothesis ‘that people who are suffering are compelled to engage in creative activities specifically because they may bring relief and have therapeutic effects and bring improvement in well-being’ (p. 319 – 320).

‘Creative activities may also be particularly well suited to help participants make meaning out of difficult experiences’ (p. 323) but Forgeard does highlight the need for more research in this are particularly ‘to support the claim that creative activities may reflect a way in which individuals heal and/or make meaning from difficult situations (p. 324). Ivcevic and Hoffmann’s chapter (that precedes Forgeard’s in the Cambridge handbook) asserts that ’emotions affect the whole creative process, from motivating creative work to idea generation to working through obstacles and persisting toward actualisation of creative ideas’ (p. 279). The chapter mentions some research that ‘showed the benefits of negative emotions for idea generation’ such as one where ‘moderate levels of anger benefit creative idea generation by correcting errors and stimulating new ideas’ (p. 279). Though positive and negative emotion states can influence creativity in different ways they both can influence creativity and one study ‘found that participants induced to experience a positive mood produced more ideas when the task was framed as fun and those in negative moods produced more ideas when the task framed as serious’ (p. 280).

Some studies showed that ‘low-level stress tended to significantly increase creative performance over no stress’ but ‘the kind of stress made a difference’ and ‘those high in trait anxiety, stressors decreased creativity and, for those low in trait anxiety, stressors increased creativity’ (p. 280). Some work on sympathy revealed that a group induced to feel sympathy ‘showed greater originality in thinking and the beneficial effect of sympathy on creativity’ (p. 280).

‘Teachers have an opportunity to express their creativity and support the creative potential of their students’ writes Beghetto in the Cambridge companion (p. 592). For his to happen he suggests there are three prerequisites that need to be met:

  • teachers need to believe that they can assume the role of a creative teacher in their classroom;
  • they need to be willing to assume that role;
  • they need to have an understanding of what assuming that role entails.

Beghetto emphasises that ‘teachers need to understand how nurturing student creativity and supporting academic learning can be compatible goals’ (p. 592) yet he shares that ‘if teachers believe that engaging in creative teaching might result in an actual or externally perceived deviation away from their primary goal of supporting students’ academic learning, then they likely would choose against it’ (p. 593). Beghetto outlines three forms of creativity in classrooms:

  • teaching about creativity: ‘teaching about creativity requires that teachers know about the nature of creativity, know how to represent it in the subject areas they are teaching and know how to make this content accessible to their students’ (p. 594).
  • teaching for creativity: ‘when teachers design lessons that provide students with opportunities to express their creativity, they are introducing uncertainty into an otherwise planned and highly structured instructional setting’ (p. 595)… ‘teachers need to be ready to navigate uncertainties to ensure they are providing a “just in time” blend of support and flexibility’ (p. 595). So planning for and expecting creative expression from students; providing students with autonomy support; provide students with opportunities to view topics from different perspectives and possibilities; and providing students with opportunities to view creativity and academic learning as means to other ends.
  • teaching with creativity: ‘modelling creative thought and action can motivate others to engage in creative behaviours (p. 596) though teachers ‘believed that teaching with creativity takes more time and energy than teaching in a more traditional way (p. 597) and ‘consequently creative teaching behaviours may be difficult to sustain over the course of an entire lesson’ (p. 597). ‘Having the willingness to explore unexpected turns and plan for creative openings in academic lessons can yield creative outcomes for both teachers and students’ (p. 597) when teaching creatively.

Beghetto stresses the need for teachers to embrace creativity studies so they can enhance their teaching, yet also propels researchers to ‘study creativity “in the wild” of the classroom’ (p. 601). I would hope that my colleagues would be keen to consider how we might capture the rich, thick descriptions of our classroom practice when teaching about, with and for creativity as this might yield some promising research if it is appropriately designed. Capturing creativity in the context of the classroom is a challenge and the evaluation of creative practice continues to be a vague area, and one that the Durham commission largely seemed to avoid too. Capturing our practice so we can illuminate it and reflect seems an idea next step for teachers, in the spirit of the research-informed profession we aspire to have for teaching.

As teachers how can be foster creativity remotely?  I am wondering this a lot as we move to methods of teaching that might be largely content delivery focused. I am wondering if I can ‘explore unexpected turns and plan for creative openings’ however remote we might be, and still be able to provide a suitable blend of support and flexibility. Recognising that pupils will be understandably feeling a variety of unexpected emotions in the present situation and whilst much research shows how creativity can be enabled through these complex times, there is a balance that needs to be struct in how we enable creativity without causing further stress and a lack of motivation. How do we propel pupils to sustain creative work in the absence of regular feedback, and amidst competing and unpredictable demands?

It’s very clear we have a vital part to play as arts teachers in the months ahead as our pupils return to schools. We can build on the research that exists to help understand our part in actualising the creativity in our pupils to respond to their emotions as they process the challenges of the present situation, and how we can sustain and foster the creativity and resilience to return to their school communities. I’m curious how we can do this remotely, and curious what plans we can make to ensure we make the best of our arts and cultural communities in supporting young people to return to their schools when the time is right to do so.


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