Creativity myths: busted

Mr Andrew Pennay, Director of Creative Arts

Creativity. Imagination. Innovation. These still-trending nouns sit at the centre of many company slogans but they are widely misunderstood.

Teachers are quick to point to Sir Ken Robinson when defining these terms in the context of education. He poses ‘creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is applied imagination. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice’ (Robinson and Aronica, 2015).

Creativity, in particular, carries historical baggage. In the arts, creativity is central to our practice but students struggle to tackle certain myths when developing performative and visual responses to the world around them. Is our practice divinely inspired? Is creativity only bestowed upon the arty?

The creation of art is not alone in falling victim to creativity myths. Research points to the difficulty of audiences accepting creative ideas, too, especially when more practical and unoriginal options are readily available (Mueller, Melwani, Goncalo, 2010).

David Burkus synthesises the myths of creativity supremely. In his text The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas (2013), Burkus reminds us that our lives challenge us to be creative on demand and therefore we must develop novel, useful ideas in order that our organisations remain competitive.

In truth, creativity is much more than a ‘competitive edge’. The creative arts reveal a deeper sense of who we are and who we might become.

Last week’s Arts Fest, culminating in the extraordinary realisation of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros performed by a cast of Senior Drama students, reminded us of the extent to which our students crave creativity in their lives. The question arises, then: how do we tackle some of the creativity myths Burkus identifies?

The Constraints Myth

‘Couldn’t we be more creative if there was no task sheet, and no due date?’, ponders a Year 10 Drama student.

Students actually cope better when we narrow the scope and scale of tasks. Far from a blank slate, constraints give structure to the challenge, aiding understanding (Burkus 2013).

The Percussion Ensemble performance, which opened Arts Fest last Monday, was a perfect example of creative restraint. The players threw improvised solos back and forth. Had Mr Cavanough not placed restraint around tonal centres, length and rhythmic complexity, the task would have been daunting and likely unachievable.

The Breed Myth

‘Wait ‘till you meet my younger sister. She has always been so arty’, says a Year 9 Visual Art student.

Creativity is the business of all of us. With no evidence supporting a creative gene or personality type (Burkus 2013), we look at last Tuesday’s Songwriter Showcase in a different light. Amazing the audience with a collection of original songs, those creative souls are, more than anything, well-trained, hardworking and literate in their craft.

The Lone Creator Myth

‘I work better by myself’, proclaims the lone creator.

In reality, communities of artists function better than individual artists. In business, most breakthrough ideas come from a network of collaborators (Burkus 2013). In the art classroom, the bond between teacher mentor and student is paramount. Observing giggling girls making carved fresco pendants together with staff and a visiting artist last Tuesday after school, we remembered that we are all in this together.

The Originality Myth

‘I can’t find anything new to say in my work’, bemoans the Year 11 Drama student.

Do not worry about being original. Drama students work best when they form new performances in response to the old—when they re-interpret, combine, refine, extend or flip practices that they have explored together. Last Wednesday’s Physical Theatre performance and Grammar Dance showcase were both perfect examples of girls combining existing gestures and spaces in innovative ways.

The Expert Myth

‘I suppose I’m just over-thinking it’, frowns the frustrated composer.

In reality, the most creative musical works are often composed by girls with limited primary school training in music—girls who have a basic grasp, but not enough to hinder their creativity. A good approach is to write quickly, before the second-guessing has time to set in, to avoid the déformation professionnelle that comes with trying to ‘look like a composer’.

The Cohesive Myth

‘But that’s how I want it to be’, states the Year 11 Drama student.

As Burkus (2013) notes, cohesion is most often a sign that we have no new ideas. Teachers are well-trained at engaging in positive conflict with student ideas. At times, the going gets tough for students who feel they have ownership over a creative idea. Teacher criticism that is work-focused, not student-focused, allows creative ideas to flourish.

The Eureka Myth

‘It just came to me’, says the Year 12 Visual Art student.

After school last Wednesday, Visual Art students gathered with staff to meet past student Rev. Dr Geraldine Wheeler (1960). She articulated the artistic inquiry process perfectly, demonstrating that things ‘just come to you’ after years of experimentation, development, thought, practice and toil.

The Mousetrap Myth

‘I’ve got lots of ideas. None of them are any good. I just need to have some more’, says the student struggling to translate her ukulele doodling into a well-crafted tune.

Burkus (2013) debunks the myth that ‘if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door’. Re-invention and endless idea-seeking in the arts can be fruitless on account of an inherent bias against creativity as evidenced by Mueller, Melwani and Goncalo (2010). Their research into creativity bias reveals a tendency to guard against uncertainty, failure, riskiness and social rejection when working with new ideas. In truth, students don’t need to become more creative, they need to get better at not falling victim to—and dismissing—their own creative ideas.

The Incentive Myth

‘Is this for assessment?’, quizzes the Year 10 musician.

Last Thursday, an amplified string quartet performed ABBA alongside electronic backing. Audience members sang and danced in a remarkable display of joy. On Friday, Bartók Strings performed Coldplay in the open, abandoning confines of the traditional arrangement of chairs and stands, with the audience peering down through the Creative Learning Centre. The same day, our Arts Captains organised a Slam and Jam. We enjoyed Chamber Singers’ Chattanooga Choo Choo (creative interpretation through arranger, then conductor, then performer), followed by girls reciting Valentine’s Day poems and performing slam poetry. We heard an evocative duet interpretation of Billie Jean, and a marvellously creative loop pedal/violin/synthesizer/vocal rendition of a Bruno Mars tune.

All these un-assessed experiences play out what we know about the detrimental effects of incentivism (Dobelli, p.174). Greater creativity results from enlisting enthusiasm, rather than enticing with bonuses or threatening with assessment. Arts Fest, Rhinoceros and this week’s Cathedral Concert encourage us to examine further the role that rich, creative experiences play in inculcating a culture of imagination.

Through myriad opportunities—both within the classroom structure and through adjacent co-curricular activities—we in the Creative Arts Faculty aim to allow students to practise and revel in their creativity, and gradually learn to overcome these myths.



Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2015). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education. n.p.: Penguin Books.

Burkus, D. (2013). The Myths of Creativity: The Truth about How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mueller, J., Melwani, S., & Goncalo, J. (2010). The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas. Ithaca: Cornell.

Dobelli, R., (2013). The Art of Thinking Clearly. n.p.: Harper.