Tuesdays with TED: Sir Ken Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

One of  the first TED talks made available online in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” remains the most-watched talk on the TED.com website. In addition to the speaker’s excellent rhetorical techniques (which, indeed, have helped set the tone for many future TED and TEDx events), the subject matter, if anything, rings even truer now than it did a decade ago.

Robinson builds his speech on the themes that, in his opinion, the whole conference shares:

  1. The extraordinary range and variety of human creativity
  2. The impossibility of knowing what the world will be like even five years into the future
  3. The innate capacities children have for innovation and creativity

He asserts:

All kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly… My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

After telling two humorous anecdotes about the fearlessness of children to be wrong, Robinson concludes:

You’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

While many other TED talks have discussed the variety observed within educational environments around the world, Robinson focuses on the hierarchy of subjects that he finds universal within them: that mathematics and languages (the subjects that supposedly make a person employable) are at the top of the hierarchy, and the arts on the bottom. Even within the arts, he notes, drama and dance rank below art and music.

Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.

Robinson tells the thought-provoking story of Gillian Lynne, who, as a child, performed poorly academically until a doctor suggested taking her to a dance school, where she met other people like herself, “who had to move to think.” The story concludes:

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company — the Gillian Lynne Dance Company — met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she’s given pleasure to millions; and she’s a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

All in all, we would have to agree that the 20-minute talk does deserve its place of prominence among the TED collection. Robinson explores his topic in further detail in his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything [library]. He has also given several more TED talks, which we will eventually feature here.

Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
–T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The Heidelberg Project is an art environment in the heart of Detroit’s east side. The project was started by artist Tyree Guyton and his grandfather, Sam Mackey, in 1986. After serving in the Army, Guyton was shocked to see the state of decline in his childhood neighborhood. The project began with painting dots and attaching salvaged objects to houses in a two-block area. Twice, the city of Detroit has demolished houses in the Heidelberg Project: in 1991, under Mayor Coleman Young, three houses were destroyed, and three more were removed in 1999 during Mayor Dennis Archer’s tenure. In 2013 and 2014, more houses fell victim to arson; to date, no arrests have been made.

Some of these photos were taken before the fires, others after. From its beginning, the Heidelberg Project has been fluid and changing, and new installations have appeared since these photos. We urge you to venture out and enjoy this amazing public space yourself! If you’d like to visit, the address is 3600 Heidelberg St, Detroit, MI 48207. It is located not far from Eastern Market, Mount Elliott cemetery, the Packard Plant, Belle Isle, and the Detroit Riverfront, so plan to spend a day in the area.

performing with the painting

One moment of our 1993 conversation made this especially clear, one during which we both looked at the textured surface of Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952, a painting by Jackson Pollock full of patches, slashes, lines, drippings, and blobs, with barely a hint of blue. “I don’t understand this,” I said. “Yes you do,” Lynch said. “Your eyes are moving.” They must have been, but I had not paid any attention. I had automatically experienced a lack of meaning because I could not stand at the prescribed, controlling viewing distance and read the painting as a rationally controlled system of shapes. Lynch had spontaneously identified the painting as a meaningful representation for me because it had released my moving eye from conventional viewer expectations. I saw that I could not contain the painting in some theoretical framework; he saw me performing with the painting. He saw as crucial that part of me that my education had taught me is inconsequential to my grasp of meaning.
—from The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood by Martha P. Nochimson

 

Further Reading: “How To Steal Like An Artist And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me” – Austin Kleon

How To Steal Like An Artist And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me – Austin Kleon.

Wow. Lovely. Concise. Visual–or rather, graphic, in the good sense. Some common-sense tried-and-truisms, for sure, but he’s tried them.

It’s funny, I have The Happiness Project blog in my reader, and I want to delete it every time I look at it, because Gretchen Rubin is so painfully, Sensorially literal, and I find her exasperating. She dissects and over-explains as if she were teaching 3rd-graders long division, rather than Internet-dwelling adults to be happy. And her tests of these huge conceptual hypotheses are often lame anecdotes about herself and her husband. AND the fact that she is shamelessly selling the Gretchen brand wherever she can–thought her book is selling well, so some of y’all must like it–just grates. Happiness is both vast and minute, as well as mysterious, but this blog is mostly just pragmatism (and privilege, seeing’s how she’s rich and well-connected). Anyway. Gretchen DOES have good connections to other writers, artists, and cultural resources, so I keep her blog around.

This is what she had to say about the above-linked essay:

* I was very interesting [sic] in this post by Austin Kleon, How to steal like an artist (and 9 other things nobody told me). I don’t agree with every item, but many of them rang true, and it’s a very thought-provoking piece.

And perhaps that is the most effective endorsement of all. Just go read it!

More from Austin Kleon