Creativity in Higher Education – Contributions to a Manifesto

In the story of art, at least western art, manifestos are a way to consolidate key principles for the development of a movement, an idea or a project. From Joshua Reynolds musings on art in the Eighteenth century, to the Dada manifesto and the Guerrilla Girls, artists feel compelled to explain or to present their ideas in a didactic manner in these “manifestos” (See Royal Academy). Likewise, the invitation of Academic Creator, Norman Jackson, to build up a Creativity in Higher Education is a welcome opportunity to initiate a discussion about one of my favorite, if not the core of my whole practice. I’ve been testing a number of ways to embed creativity in my role as artist-educator in teaching and learning, long time ago, even from the days of teaching at Universidad de los Andes (Colombia), and during the last ten years of teaching in the UK.

The idea of sparking creativity in engineers or business management students seem antagonist, even subversive, and twenty years of teaching in higher education seem to enhance and actually support the initial musings and playful attempts.

How Creativity is used in my learning and teaching practice:

  •  While teaching environmental management at the faculty of business at anglia ruskin university, a course initiated in 2008 and re-designed in 2015, I have been using art-based methodologies for developing particular skills and especially to promote lateral thinking. For example, in order to highlight the importance of diagnosis in processes of sustainable management, I introduced the exercise of observation and drawing with the left hand (or right hand if you are left-handed) explained in the classic book of Betty Edwards, Drawing with the Left Side of the Brain. In that way I encourage students to stop and look, rather than assuming what is outside. This has found different responses, from the students who embrace the exercise as an escape to the boring traditional lecture, to the occasional student who refused to engage with it: “I don’t pay £9000 a year for drawing”… this student is my main target! Because what I hear is not a customer, but a soul who has lost the spark with creativity. Who can blame him/her, after all, the educational system from primary school to secondary school is all about repetition, follow the rules, colour within the lines. Creativity is so squashed throughout the individuals’ life that it is difficult to revive it… and yet, it is there, hidden, afraid of being judged, in fear of not complying with the norm.
  • Since 2010, I have been collaborating with conceptual artist Carmen Lamberti in merging the realms of education for sustainability and art in the RawTag movement, as a way of teaching ethics and social responsibility by engaging the narratives of clothing production and consumption. It operates as a conceptual trypticht: Love, Think and Act. In the first part, participants are asked to share their happy memories of certain garments, why you love your clothes? issues about identity, memory, growing up, nostalgia are weaved in the garment’s fabric. From there we encourage them to “Think” where their clothes come from? who made them? hence revealing the impact of our consumption choices through highlighting the life cycle of the garment. This is an exercise in decolonising the curriculum, and also make visible the producers and manufacturers mostly in hard conditions that make our clothes. Finally, we encourage people to ACT: this is by creating a campaign, creating a movement, revisiting their habits: in other words, empowering them as agents of change.  The artistic dimensions is twofold: one, the conversations themselves feed into a wider conversation in which art is the vehicle for expression. Secondly, we draw upon such conversations to present installations and environments for people to react to the issue of ethical consumption and fashion.
  • My latest project is the prototyping of a module on Design Thinking, an opportunity to bring all the creative toys together by applying elements of this novel methodology in creating solutions, brainstorming and opening the imagination of the participants. this is an interdisciplinary project with the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Business and Law at Anglia Ruskin University and it is funded by the CIHE-Centre for Innovation in Higher Education (Anglia Learning and Teaching). I am working with the fantastic Dr. Michelle Fava, whose innovative work on “Drawing and Cognition” has provided the pedagogical basis for this experiment.  In fact, we have taken a leap of faith as we are attempting something radical: to bring creativity as a central aim in learning and teaching. The module, albeit works with a real life problem, is assessed by the capacity of the participants to reflect on the different stages of the methodology and the challenges of embracing the unknown. We have used all sort of art-based techniques: from drawing exercises to identify visual metaphors, to sensual ethnography to engage with stakeholders, exquisite corps es for collaborative teamwork, story-telling for the wow factor, and a constant attention to disrupt traditional ways of learning and teaching. Let me explain, we are committed to engage with the students as key participants, and this requires dialogue and an open attitude to embrace failure, uncertainty and playfulness. None of those aspects is what we practice in academic contexts, hence, it is been a real challenge, whose fruits are starting to yield.

Now I will try to bring all these elements together and participate in this exciting Manifesto,

Watch this space

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