Creativity is the ability to solve problems with new nonroutine ideas. But the more important question to ask is - How do creative people generate new ideas, what special cognitive abilities do they possess? This knowledge can have a profound effect on education and therefore our future.
The answer is - creative individuals think visually. They connect information into new ideas primarily with the help of their visual system. Creativity is visual thinking: the brain forms mental images and uses them for creative thought.
The cycle of creative visual thinking has three stages, observation, selection and integration, that work in close unity; all three stages are equal and inseparable. Vision is not inferior to thinking. It is not there to just record the information for the brain to do the rest. Visual system is connected with every major part of the brain and integral to all complex brain processes.
Observation. Creative people take in larger amounts of visual information when observing the external environment.
Selection. They actively and intentionally filter the visual data against a goal or problem and form mental images.
Integration. The individuals consciously transform and manipulate mental images to create new connections, refine new ideas and plan to implement them.
Mental Images and Teaching Creativity
Mental images is “flesh and blood” of creative thinking. Understanding their nature is important for devising effective creativity learning.
Mental images are a set of propositions about objects or events held in the mind. They are largely visual images. Even auditory, haptic, kinetic or olfactory sensations are rarely experienced without visual components.
To serve the creative process effectively, however, mental images must have certain properties. They need to be abstract - hints or metaphors conceived outside of concrete representation. This can be likened to objects painted by Impressionist artists in just a few brush strokes. They also need to have structure in order to be transformed and manipulated. And they need to carry meaning - if they fail to represent objects or events as ideas, symbols or statements, mental images are useless to the creative process.
Being the homeground of visual thinking, art better than any other subject engenders creativity and innovation.
Teaching for creativity and innovation must be a priority of 21 century education. Yet, current education systems fail to enable young people to think and act creatively, with negative consequences for societies and economies that will last for decades. Children are still taught to become good workers rather than creative thinkers. Attempts to modernize education have been insufficient. Policymakers still believe that literacy and numeracy equal economic prosperity, while creativity does not. They are unaware that illiterate in the 21st century are those who cannot innovate. They trust that the STEM subjects are the silver bullet for mastering the technological revolution and don’t realise that success of STEM-specific fields depend on creativity. They fear the “danger” creativity poses to conformity and social obedience and lack the understanding that creative force is constructive when encouraged and destructive when suppressed. They fail to understand creativity.
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