Can creativity be taught?

20/01/2016 Discussions, Writing 16

Can creativity be taught?Something I’ve always found interesting in the writing world is the two schools of thought regarding whether or not writing skills can be taught. Many well regarded writers have famously bashed creative writing courses, claiming that writing as a creative medium can’t be taught unless a person has some modicum of natural talent, whereas I know from experience through my time as a Creative Writing student that there are writers and tutors out there who believe most people are capable of learning to write well.

This got me thinking about whether or not creativity in general can be taught, or whether it’s just a natural thing that some people have and some don’t. I would consider myself a fairly creative person based on my interests, yet why do I find writing so natural whilst my attempts at learning photography have been a slower, more gradual process? I have also tried my hand at different arts and crafts in the past, and have designed and created bookmarks which I sell through Etsy, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a natural artist, and similarly I have tried and failed to learn numerous musical instruments. Despite my attempts at different creative pursuits writing is the only one that I would describe myself as having any natural talent at, so does that mean I can’t learn others?

Personally, whilst I believe anyone who puts enough time and effort into learning a creative pursuit could achieve a certain amount of skill, I believe there will always be some people who will just be better at it. If a naturally talented writer and a not so naturally talented writer both put in the same amount of work, the naturally talented writer will in my opinion end up more skilled and the better writer.

However, just wanting to create is in my opinion enough to make someone a creative person, no matter what skill level they are at. However good or bad you are at writing or painting or playing a musical instrument just having the will to try it and to experiment (a vital part of creativity) means you’re open to being creative.

But what do you think? Can creative pursuits be taught, or do you have to a least have some natural talent to begin with? And how would you define a ‘creative person’?

16 Responses to “Can creativity be taught?”

  1. Kaja

    Ha, this is a great post, Laura! 🙂
    My dad’s a psychologist and his area of expertise is giftedness – which, I think, is the thing missing from your musings – or rather, not missing, you have it there as a concept. Anyway – what he always says is that creativity CAN be learned while giftedness can’t (if we generalise a bit, I’m sure there’s more he’d love to say on the topic if given the chance).
    But there’s also the question of skill – like you said, if you invest enough time into an activity, you will get better at it, and if a gifted person neglects an activity, they will, of course, not do it well (let’s say an “un-gifted” person practices the violin 5 times a week and a gifted one once a month – I’m fairly sure the “average” person will play better). So it’s basically always worth putting your time into something that interests you, even if you’re not extra-gifted at it. Something like that, anyway. 🙂

    • Laura

      It’s super interesting to get some facts on this from someone who is a professional, so it’s great that it just happens to be your dad’s area of expertise! I think ‘giftedness’ was kind of what I was getting at but couldn’t think how to put it into words. It does totally makes sense though that creativity itself can be taught be giftedness can’t.
      I think skill is definitely something that is largely learnt through practice, but obviously you’re at an advantage if your naturally talented at it. It is pretty encouraging to know though that you can pretty much put your mind to most things and become reasonably good at if with enough practise. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  2. Kate

    This was really interesting and it’s not really something I’ve ever really thought about. I would always think that there are creative people and not so creative people but on reflection I think perhaps it can be taught, to a degree. Just the process of experimentation in art, writing or music is creativity and anyone, good or bad can do that. Maybe there are naturally people who enjoy and find creativity easier and people who are a bit slower and feel it isn’t worth the hassle.
    I would also say that creativity is relative to each person who thinks about it. To some, art, plain and simple may be seen as creative whereas others can see how photography, poetry, design, writing and more are all different ways to express themselves.
    Wow, sorry for the ramble that doesn’t make much sense. This was a really thoughtful post and it got me thinking so thank you! : )

    • Laura

      I’m glad you found this interesting, and thanks for commenting! Everything you’ve said makes total sense to me 🙂
      I definitely agree with you that some people are probably more naturally creative than others, in that some people have more of a will to try different creative pursuits, where as other people might find it more of a hassle and maybe prefer something a bit more practical like science or something. It does definitely depend on the person though, because I think different creative people lean more towards one form of creativity even if they try out loads. I, for example, do photography and a bit of art, but really I’m more into writing.

  3. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    I agree. I think *skills* can be taught, but some people do have more innate talent and will just always be better at certain things, even if both people put in the same amount of time and energy and effort. But, as Kaja said, skills can easily overcome talent if the talented person doesn’t put in any effort.

    To me, however, (and please don’t hate me for saying this), what you’re describing is more someone who’s artistic than creative? I mean, I used to have the same kind of definition of creativity as you, but now I feel that liking something like art or writing doesn’t necessary mean you’re creative, and, on the other side, creativity applies to everything, not just artsy stuff. I mean, you can be creative with how you do your housework lol. And I think that kind of creativity is an intrinsic trait, something people are just born with. Some people just live outside the box without even trying, whereas others follow the well-worn path (I’m mixing metaphors, but whatever). I think people can teach themselves to try and think outside the box and could maybe become somewhat more creative, but I still don’t think it would be the same as someone born with it.

    • Laura

      It was definitely interesting to get a bit of a different perspective, and I totally get what you’re saying. Creativity maybe wasn’t exactly the right word for what i was getting at, as I definitely agree you can just do normal things like housework creatively (I guess that’s all about creative thinking? Just doing things in a bit of a different way?). Maybe I was meaning artistic, but I wasn’t sure that would encompass things like writing.
      I really liked what you said about people being born being able to think outside the box more than others, and I think that’s probably true. Maybe that’s parted of the whole ‘giftedness’ thing Kaja mentioned. Maybe some people are gifted at thinking creatively? I’ve heard that different sides of the brain deal with more creative and more rational things and that most people tend to favour one side over the other more.
      It’s definitely an interesting thing to think about, so thanks so much for commenting 🙂

  4. Natalie @ Flowers in my Books

    This was really interesting!

    I definitely believe that there are creative people and academic people but that doesn’t mean that a creative person can’t be good at academics and an academic person can’t enjoy doing something creative, I just think it’s all about what that particular person prefers!

    A creative subject can be taught, sure. I’m applying to study Creative Writing at University and I wholly believe that it can improve my writing skills. Anyone can learn how to play an instrument if they keep at it so I think overall it lies in personal preference.

    As for can creativity as a whole be taught? I’m not so sure. Some people can think of a story and have it developed within a few hours, there are people who are constantly thinking of creative blog posts and others (like me) who have one creative idea a year that comes naturally.

    It’s a difficult subject, I think, and not one that comes with a straight answer.

    • Laura

      I totally agree about the preference thing. People tend to lean towards one or the other, but could probably do either if they put their mind to it.
      I really hope you enjoy Creative Writing! I did it at University and I definitely feel like it helped me improve my writing skills, so personally I’m of the belief that actual skills in things like writing can be taught. As for creativity as a whole, I’m still not sure (hence this very rambley post!), but it has been really interesting to read all the comments and get other peoples’ opinions on it.

  5. Jim Wilbourne

    Creativity is a core survival skill. Everyone is capable of it (and I say everyone in a general sense). Those that we consider to be “actively creative” are those that have practiced being creative. Also, I think it’s important not to interchange the idea of creativity with art, talent, and craft. All of these are distinct ideas even if they are related (not saying that you’re interchanging them, of course).

    To me, creativity is the skill of critical synthesis. It’s connecting two ideas to form one new idea. We do this all the time. All day, every day.

    Therefore, creativity isn’t something that needs to be taught (like typing can be taught), but, rather, it’s just something that can be strengthened and nurtured (like the ability to tell a story ― something everyone can do and do do).

    • Laura

      I definitely agree that everyone is capable of creativity, but I’m still not sure if it can be taught. I like what you say about it being strengthened and nurtured though – that definitely seems like a better description of how creative pursuits like writing and art can be ‘taught’ because everyone has their own style, so you can’t just say ‘do it exactly like this’.
      I get what you mean about not interchanging creativity with art etc., as well. I have said in a reply to someone else’s comment that creativity possibly wasn’t the right word to use for what I was getting at here, as creativity itself is definitely more about how people think and the ability to think outside the box. I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of artistic creativity here.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      • Jim Wilbourne

        Very true.
        I’m not exactly sure it can be taught. You can be guided. But it’s not as simple as consuming knowledge. It’s most about practice. It’s kind of like exercise. You can watch people do it and read about it as much as you want. But you won’t get anywhere unless you use your own muscles and understand your own body.

        I’m actually working on a creativity nurturing program. It doesn’t teach creativity, but it gives you ways to practice the fundamentals of creativity so that you understand the muscles involved and can access them at will rather than just intuitively. These are principles like Creative Metabolism, Idea Generation, Critical Synthesis, Building Systems and Structures, etc.

        I’m working with someone in early childhood development to create a program for children as well.

        Really, though, you can only be the catalyst to someone else’s creative mind. It’s up to the individual to run with it.

        • Laura

          I really like the idea of being able to guide creativity, and you’re right about it being more like exercise – it’s more about practice than knowledge.
          Best of luck with your program! It sounds really interesting 🙂

  6. Icy Sedgwick

    I think creativity and creative pursuits are two different things. Creativity is such a wide-ranging area, and involves all sorts including problem solving, while creative pursuits are based more around a series of actions or things you do. I think both of them can be taught as a set of processes or techniques, but the success of either comes from how people apply them, if that makes sense!

    • Laura

      That totally makes sense, and I agree that creativity and creative pursuits are two different things. Creativity can be applied to most things, and I guess is more just a way of thinking and coming up with solutions, whilst the more ‘arty’ side of creativity is all tied up with creative pursuits.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  7. Rebecca Waters

    I believe creativity is inherent in all of us and is generally “untaught” through schooling, adult expectations, and so forth. The young child creates a wonderful picture with purple apples and imaginative animals of various colors and shapes only to be corrected by some well meaning parent or teacher saying “apples are red” or “no, animals can’t have three heads” or “stay in the lines.

    • Laura

      I definitely feel like everyone has the capacity to be creative, and I really like your example of the young child. In fact, I think childhood is probably where our creativity is the most free, as it doesn’t really matter when you’re a kid painting purple apples, whereas an adult will usually automatically choose the actual colour of the subject, without making as much of a creative choice.

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