Years ago, I was living in New York City and my wife and children were learning how to make Gyoza, a Japanese dumpling. Our artist friends, Gloria a dancer and Ken a graffiti wizard, were organizing our Gyoza workshop, teaching us how to fill and roll, and my children were having so much fun making the filling and forming the dumplings. After making more than a hundred dumplings, many of them were consumed with the pleasure of taste in our creative cooking. Twenty years later, my daughter and I were in Miami at the Wynwood Walls looking at public graffiti that by all measures is one of the most influential public art place in America when I came across my friend Ken’s work! Imagine how excited I was. Imagine me thinking back to our gyoza workshop and how he was always talking about making one graffiti line around the world, and there in front of me was his one line chiselled into several rocks. What a moment for me, for the creativity of his art, for our family connection and for the power of his work to influence others.
What is the educational power of graffiti? The answer is that Graffiti has marvelous powers to help us see things differently and challenge us to think about art in public spaces. Graffiti in specific and art in general can drive powerful outcomes for children. In schools we introduce art to students as a more formal way of understanding their own creativity, but their creativity is just sitting there waiting to be given permission to jump out.
Creativity and art also help students to gain ownership about their learning. When I have studied the effects of arts integration, which is the process of using art to enhance academic learning, one of the most regular outcomes is that the process of using art to help students learn regular academic content results in increased ownership, memory, understanding, and student achievement. Creativity just helps learning—but how?
Creativity helps students by activating their learning. The power of creativity is to activate a natural potential inside of every child. Happiness can activate it, anger can activate it, and well organized teacher instruction can activate it, but activation is what is needed for students to learn to use it.
But if un-harnessed, or un-activated, it is harder to activate in adulthood, in work places that desperately need lots of creativity to succeed. When you ask students to do art, they grab and go. We adults hesitate and wait, think it over, form a committee, etc. Students start making changes in their brains and adults start asking what change should I make. Students use art to let out their naturally strong sense of creativity. Art helps them to be themselves—creative, alive and not fearful. Adults are harder to activate because of our fear that creativity is for play and we have often been told to put away our games, our paintbrushes, our instruments, and get on with life. So when the boss says come up with a solution….we ponder.
Creative education uses art as a challenge to harness student creativity and make it useful. This links up with the literature on the definition of creativity which, although there are many definitions, mostly agree that creativity is involved with original ideas that are of value to society. This is not the definition of creativity that surrounds genius, or inventor. Those are often thought of as creativity with a big “C.”
For educational purposes, teachers help students to use creativity with a small “C,” or “c,” to identify a problem and think of several solutions. This creative problem solving process will be of value to the student’s learning in school and hopefully to her or her job in the future. For example, a problem might be posed as: “how many ways can we measure the area of this floor?” Students would think of the way they had been taught, but then would try to think of other ways to measure the floor. This thinking really helps them use their creativity in constructive ways to solve real problems posed by their math class, in this case.
In literature class a problem might be posed as, “What are the top two or three ways to re-tell this story about the Three Little Pigs?” In science class we might pose the questions as, “How else could we do this experiment so that we can check the answer to the first way that we all did this experiment?”
Wynwood in the Future
So speaking of good questions for adults, how will Wynwood evolve in the future? What questions should they be posing to themselves? How will they harness all of this creativity, share it with the public, and continue to produce new and interesting art? How will they solve the current problem they have of being so successful? How will they create something new, something of value, something that others can confront, challenge, copy, learn from, and ultimately contribute to? These are the creative questions we face as adults, and they are also the instructional questions we need to help our students learn in childhood, through creative education. How many ways can we measure the area of the floor?