With another school year now well underway, I find myself thinking about an article in WIRED magazine in which Michael Gough talks about about drawing, children, and creativity—what we teach them, and how this is changing with the explosion of digital creativity tools.
Michael is the head of Experience Design at Adobe and a self-proclaimed “compulsive drawer.” He’s had lots of personal and professional experience backing up his ideas about creativity and technology.
I was especially struck by his comment that we’ve trained people to think of drawing (and, by extension, creativity) as a talent that only a special few are born with. Many of us over forty grew up hearing this old, tired idea.
Does it make sense anymore?
Michael believes that everyone has the inherent ability to draw, and that technology can help this ability bloom. I think the idea can be extended to creativity of all kinds—not just drawing.
I remember when our schools had programs to “teach technology” because we learned through formal instruction; today our children “play” with technology. This process of experimentation and exploration is fundamentally a process of creative thinking.
As the parent of teenagers (who’s spent some time working in a school), I see how differently young people react to media than the older generations. For them, their cell phones and tablets are extensions of their hands. They don’t think of gadgets as sophisticated technology that they have to master—they simply pick them up, download apps, and start playing (read: creating).
And with children getting introduced to devices with incredible power to capture inspiration and create at ever younger ages, they’re expressing themselves differently, whether for school projects or for fun. My daughters started doing homework on tablets in middle school; children just a few years younger have been playing with smartphones and tablets since they were toddlers.
When I saw the images that my daughter created using Photoshop on her tablet, I was amazed
“How did you learn to use that?” I asked.
“Mom, they give it to us at school.” (Duh, Mom, like I need someone to show me.)
Creativity scholar Ken Robinson agrees that it’s time to throw off the old ideas about who’s creative and who isn’t. In his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, he writes:
“Human intelligence is uniquely and profoundly creative. We live in a world that’s shaped by the ideas, beliefs and values of human imagination and culture. The human world is created out of our minds as much as from the natural environment.”
Those of us who grew up in the pre-digital past were given things like crayons and paper to feed our creativity. As we moved through our educational lives we were sorted into students who were “creative” and those who weren’t.
Digital is changing all of that
Our children live in a world where there doesn’t have to be any distinction between people who are creative and those who aren’t. Digital is leveling the playing field so we can experiment more freely and develop everyone’s creative side. And it’s an incentive for parents like me to spend more time experimenting with new apps and tools to try to keep up with the younger generation.
With all the new possibilities for expressing creativity, people everywhere are going to be running around shooting and playing with pictures, drawing, making music, and capturing inspiration in all kinds of ways. I can’t wait to see how much fun we all have doing it.