Post Academic

Academia and the “Creative Crisis”

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionJust how creative are scholars of the humanities, and how has that affected their job situation? Go into any literature department, and you’ll notice a big split between the students of literature and the students of creative writing. Based on my own experience (and please leave a note if yours was different), the two groups rarely interacted.

Since when was there supposed to be such a sharp split between the creative and the scholarly? Taking another step back, since when was there supposed to be such a big split between the research-oriented and the creation-oriented? And what about the sciences and the humanities?

This split may be hurting scholarly output, as well as students. A recent Newsweek series declares that the United States is in “creative crisis.” Whether or not you believe that is true, the article makes a crucial point:

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

There’s no turf war regarding creativity. Yet the perception that creativity belongs to the arts may be stunting the growth of problem-solving skills. There’s no shortage of academics, pundits, journalists and bloggers (yours truly included) who can synthesize information (such as what’s in the Newsweek article), but are we any good at solving problems and implementing solutions?

More after the jump! Swedish engraving of three creative women from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Perhaps different disciplines could learn from each other’s techniques. That’s what I found so satisfying about critical theory. Underneath all the verbal acrobatics and occasional flim-flam, the best theorists approached issues with a rigorous scientific method. It’s only when less adept theorists (or some adept theorists who kept publishing the same material over and over but I am so not naming names here) adopted the style of theory without the substance that no one knew what the hell theorists were talking about.

Furthermore, pitting the arts against the sciences or the creative against the research-oriented creates the perfect conditions for dividing-and-conquering, a strategy that university cost-cutters have used too successfully for too long. When departments start shouting at each other that one discipline is better than the other, both departments have lost. That isn’t problem-solving, that is displaying your department as a problem, and an administrator or stockholder or whoever will remove that problem by downsizing you.

We’ve reached the stage where it’s time to stop talking about the problem of higher education. We know there’s a problem. It’s time to get creative by doing the research and figuring out ways to solve the problem so that the teachers and students — not stockholders or politicians — benefit.

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