Review: Darren Henley’s ‘Creativity: Why it Matters’

On the one hand, I’m not entirely clear why this delightfully pocket-size book has been published. At £9.99 for a hardback and nearly £5 for a Kindle edition it seems a little over-priced for a message which seems quite obvious.

Who is it who needs persuading that creativity needs more emphasis in our education system? And are they likely to be interested in forking out a tenner to read why? Are those who are interested in understanding why creativity matters already people who are (forgive the pun) singing in the choir? 

This is not to dismiss the book completely out of hand. There is something pleasing about the size of it, the solidity of it in the hand, and its hint of optimism about the future. It tackles a polarised argument. There is an inclusive feel to it. 

The big point for me was the ‘false division’ between science and the arts, reasserting the wider definition and usage of the word creativity. There was a time when multiple disciplines linked up with the creative arts – think of the original title for the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences. Since then an imbalance has emerged, possibly because discplines were separated out in the classroom. It’s time that was reversed.

And for Henley its vital for the next generation too who’ll need to be armed with creative skills to help them manage a technologically disrupted world.

We humans like to know where we are headed, but creativity demands that we travel paths that lead to who-knows-where. There is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking. 

Ed Catmull, Pixar Animation and Disney

There are pockets of personal reassurance in the book. As one of the 4.86 million self-employed workers in the UK, I’m heartened by the insight organisational psychologist Adam Grant provides that “successful creative people are distinguished not by a dramatic qualitative difference in what they do, but by the energy of their production” and in that respect is, according to Henley, “at home with technological disruption.”

It puts me in mind of hackathons I’ve observed from a safe distance where coffee, sugar and bean bags enabled talented individuals to push the boundaries of their own creativity and create software in an intensely limited time-period. We are driven to celebrate our successes, but reject failure as part of the creative process because it doesn’t fit the simplistic view of the world often reductive capitalist narratives have pedalled over the years.

What I find really interesting is the way the book captures what has been going on for a while now: creativity and its impact on communities. This goes beyond cliche depictions of villagers coming together on a sunny Saturday afternoon to buy locally-made produce from a gingham-clad table. Creativity is quietly and resolutely bringing a range of diverse communities with seemingly unconnected disciplines together with collaboration underpinning it. That no-one is trumpeting that in mainstream writing is because there’s no quickly digestible story. But it’s been happening in my networks for at least two years now, and its good to see this vision articulated in Henley’s book.

In detailing the impact of creativity on education, there’s a reiteration of what could be regarded as the four pillars of a sound cultural education: knowledge-based teaching; the development of analytical and critical skills; skills-based education, and the development of personal creativity. It’s here that the purpose of the book is emphasised. To deliver such education requires access for all. And its access which is continually under threat, and in some areas of society effectively denied. 

Perhaps what this book offers is a foundation for thinkers, influencers, and campaigners – a solid manifesto or framework from which strategies and vision can spring from. It’s a quick read and a useful starting point. It needs to come out in paperback though. 

The Thoroughly Good Blog is an independent blog celebrating classical music and the arts. Please consider supporting its development in 2018 by giving a donation using PayPal.

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