In folk and fairy tales there is an important moment when our heroine is conferred with magic powers, tokens that will allow her to achieve her quest. Those tokens are normally related with the ability to see or to hear what is hidden in plain light, and by opening eyes and ears, she is encouraged to engage with her senses, her feelings and intuition to overcome obstacles and ultimately to create her destiny.
Likewise, creativity in higher education have the potential of confer such powers on participants, but we shall be willing to open our eyes and ears after so many years of having them shut. Because once you awake your senses everything begin to feed into the creative process… no matter how trivial or disconnected it looks, all counts. The groundbreaking work of professor sam warren and other great thinkers like dr harriet shortt, Jenna Ward, Ann Rippin, Steve taylor and donna ladkin amongst many others have opened the way to use visual research methods and creativity as a valid way to do research.
In my experience as an artist educator, sketching is one of the most effective ways to open our eyes, as it makes me really see things as they are not as I think they are : this means to stop the “judging” of what we see to really approach it as it really is. A good exercise is to take time to look around, truly looking, not just assuming what is there, but draw it, describe it, spend time with it. The artist Emma Fält inspired us to open our senses in one of the Symposium of Drawing and Cognition in London (2015): we went for a stroll on the Thames beach and we had to pick a stone: we were instructed to look at it, feel its weight, observing its contours, shades, small protuberances… we were now one with the stone and the stone connected to our core. Similarly when teaching the session on valuing environmental services, we take the students to the nearby green space – the Mill Road Graveyard – a Victorian cemetery, home of trees, birds and exotic butterflies: this is a shock for the students as they are normally confined to the disciplinary configuration of the classroom, learning in “powerpoint” symbols, without engaging with their senses. Indeed, how can we teach sustainability without engaging with the whole senses and nature? These little exercises may look obvious, almost silly, but in doing this we are opening the doors of perception and understanding… we know this is subversive, because once we open our senses we truly have magic powers to see/hear/feel/experience the world anew!