Some weeks back a creative genius died. Steve Jobs' life was a life of creativity unleashed. Whatever his faults, the impact of his vision and ideas have been fundamental in allowing me to write this blog, on this machine and communicate with (in my dreams!) a potential audience of millions.
True creativity is an explosion of abundance. It isn't a limited or a limiting force. It is generous, even unecessarily, wastefully so. So what might happen if we were able to create the kind of classrooms which nutured thousands of children bursting with the same elemental creativity, where the exception of one became the expectation of the many?
Those people who know me well will have had some inkling that I believe in a Creator God and that as we are made in His image, we too have creativity wired into our DNA.
I'm not sure if it is possible for a human being to simply 'exist' without at some time in the day needing to satisfy this urge.
At its most basic, it is a quest for survival. We shape the world around us so that we find the things to feed us, clothe us, give us shelter, protect us, help us do things better.
But then we find that we have an impulse to add another dimension to our efforts, one that seems to have no 'functional' value, is not a requirement of the purely mechanical process of adding food to our plates or roofs over our heads.
We not only create these things, we have an impulse to add beauty to them.
This is where I find the mechanical processes espoused by propenents of the theory of evolution to be so unsatisfactory at explaining this X-factor ingredient in our DNA. You see this addition to the world we see around us and what we oursleves add to the things we make is not just functional but wildly extravagant, completely over the top. Sunsets aren't just nice to look at, they are GLORIOUSLY, RIOTOUSLY radiant. Beautiful works of art of any kind strike us because of extraordinary skill linked to the ability to condense and synthesise incredible beauty of form and thought.
If we need food to survive, why do we love to toy with it to take the art of cooking to such extraordinary heights?
If we need shelter to be warm and protected, why do we spend such time and effort designing beautiful buildings that feed our spirit, decorating them with colour, style, panache that reflect the deepest stirrings of our own hearts? What is the functional purpose of all of this? Where does it come from? Why the urge to transform the mundane into the majestic?
I'm writing this because this blog is all about creativity. There is a hunger in education to see the dead-hand of mere functional performance related curricula re-inspired, re-invigorated by the deepest impulses of this creative drive to beautify what we do. Function is impotent without a proper recognition of this X-Factor.
It not only needs to work, it needs to be uplifting, inspiring, beautiful TO WORK WELL. We are all drawn to this when we see it, irrespective of our beliefs.
All artistic endeavour is in a sense a desire to reflect the energies and passions that lift us above the mundane, that remind us that, however this image of God in us has been marred by our shortcomings, what the Bible calls sin, our life is only truly satisfied when we give expression to this. We were all born to be explosively creative in the image of our Heavenly Father who called galaxies into being for fun.
Now I know that many reading this will have completely non-religious perceptions and explanations for what I am talking about but I hope that you will travel a little bit further down the road of thought I am on as we may find some common watering holes to refesh us on the way, some inner wisdom that you recognise and say 'That's right! In my heart, I believe this too. I recognise this. I'm happy for this to inform what I do' If so, take it, use it, live it, it is freely given.
To illustrate what I am going to say, perhaps a couple of examples might help.
Creativity is in the DNA of my entire family. My maternal grandmother was a West-End dancer / singer and understudied Dame Anna Neagle in a long-running show. My Father's family is descended from Sir Thomas Lawrence the famous portrait painter.
My Uncle, Aunt and cousins carry the surname 'Turner' and though I have no idea if they are linked in any way to our greatest national painter of light on canvas, struggling to emerge from their lives is this burst of creativity. My Uncle paints for fun and was, at one time, a sculptor; my Aunt was God-daughter to Sir Henry Moore and worked for him; my cousin is a highly trained cordon-bleu cook, creates beautiful beadwork and hand-sewn quilts.
In my own family, my mother is an amateur painter of beautiful flowers and when not doing this, simply splashes colour around her garden in the borders that beautify it.
For the rest of us we are cartoonists, film-set artists, singers, writers, composers, musicians. Is it actually, and not just metaphorically possible that there is something in DNA that transfers this from generation to generation?
To return to the title of this post, does this creative impulse derive from a place of hurt or from a place of healing?
My Uncle used to tell me that all true art is a product of a tortured soul. Some great art isn't beautiful, it is uncomfortable.
It is born out of deep deep pain and the longings of a life bloodied, bruised, dirtied. We feel the ravages of a sullied existence lived lower than the heights to which our spirits would soar. We struggle in the dust to reach a destiny for which we sense we were crafted, one full of radiant beauty. So even in pain, the reach for beauty defines us.
All hope and human striving is built on this. We want to make the world a better, more beautiful place, less ugly.
We quite literally look to the Heavens and see the grandeur and beauty around us, sense that somewhere in the longings of our hearts, this is where our destiny lies. All human endeavour is an attempt to rescue our lives, our worlds from the scarring of corruption and pain and elevate our existence back to the calling of this elemental beauty from which we have strayed.
So in one sense my Uncle I believe is correct. Van Gogh's passion for light in colour was the counterbalance to the darkest pain in his internal thoughts.
Edvard Munsch's painting 'The Scream' is an uncomfortable expression of the desire to cry out in the midst of pain, 'WHY ME?'
My daughter however, paints from a place of healing and love. She painted this picture of my Father before he died and I know that every ounce of her love for him, how she saw him and appreciated his cheeky humour, the twinkle in his eyes, his sense of school-boyish, 'not-quite-allowed' fun, all of this is incredibly captured by this painting.
So, as language teachers, how might any of this help shape what we do? I can only share my own journey and a little bit of wisdom that has helped me make sense of what I do.
About 20 years ago now, whilst out walking my dog late one night, I was incredibly furstrated with my job. Here I was teaching bright kids in a good school and yet it was such an effort to inspire them to speak or even learn a foreign language. I wasn't even experiencing a relationship with Jesus at the time but remember distinctly cying out to Him (why?) for some help on 'WHY?"
Much to my huge surprise, I was given an instant answer which I 'heard' in my spirit. If you have never experienced this it is hard to explain but trust me, it happens. What I heard was
"Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."
If you know anything about the New Testament, you will recognise this as something Jesus said. Did God really just say that to me? Is He really interested in language teaching? Does he really concern himself with such things? I am as naturally sceptical as the next man but as I began to think this through and certainly as things have subsequently unfolded since in the work I do, I know I was being given an insight into the impulse to communicate.
A child enthused, with a heart secure, full of love, purpose, fun, is a very chatty person! A child abused and put down is a very silent person.
So, are we building classrooms of healing and creativity or classrooms of crushing and fear? What in the things we do builds the former and negates the latter? Do our schools give children the former or do they steal it from them?
To conclude, perhaps fittingly, as this blog started life as a languages and technology site, can I refer you to another blog post I read today, Apple Macs and Orphan Hearts, about the life of Steve Jobs.
He defined what it meant for technology to be both functional AND beautiful. All design in its purest form is beauty of function AND form.
The creative driving factors in Steve Jobs' life may have stemmed from his desire to re-shape his world and rescue it from the real disease that ravaged him and ravages a very high percentage of those who learn from us : the pain of lives abandoned and abused by the very ones who were supposed to love them. How do we heal ourselves, our children of such wounds to be free to learn and live out the giving, creative lives we feel are our and their destiny? What do you think?