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Moments of Epiphany: Talking Creativity with an Educational Psychologist

June 22, 2011

We were lucky at our last Educator Reading Group to have Dr. Magdalena Grohman as a guest facilitator.  Dr. Grohman is an associate director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology, a lecturer at the School of Behavior and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas, Dallas, and a frequent DMA collaborator.

Dr. Grohman recommended an article from Educational Psychologist titled “Why Isn’t Creativity More Important to Educational Psychologists?  Potentials, Pitfalls, and Future Directions in Creativity Research.”  The reading invited us to reconsider beliefs and ”myths” we might hold about creativity: that creativity is something you either have or you don’t, that there is a singular type of creative person (and they are often outsiders), and that creativity is enhanced within a group.  The article also teased out a definition of creativity based on content analysis of peer-reviewed business, education, and psychology journals.

During our discussion, we thought through our own myths about creativity and the theory and practice of creativity both in our programs and jobs.  How do we talk to students in our programs and classes about creativity and their creative abilities? And how is that different from what they hear from teachers in school?  How do we structure brainstorming sessions, and work in large groups on creative projects?  

We also learned about the science of creativity.  Dr. Grohman, sharing her expertise, helped us look behind our mysterious moments of creative insight to find what’s in play cognitively, that networks of concepts in the memory get flexible (usually as we relax) and we connect remote ideas with one another, metaphorizing, and generating something new.  This cognitive picture of creativity complements the first-person accounts and understandings of creative process we know best—the things we hear artists and writers say to explain their moments of epiphany–that flashes of brilliance come from nowhere, and creativity is something beyond our control. (For more on this, see Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent TED Talk about creative genius.)

One of the things Dr. Grohman does is provide people with tools and techniques to jump start creative thinking.  She led us in a quick activity after our conversation.  We split into pairs and were asked to make a joint drawing, based on a simple prompt.  As part of the activity we weren’t allowed to talk or in any way communicate with our partner about what we were drawing.  After each pair finished, Dr. Grohman sequenced our artworks, and asked us to create a story to link them together.  Illustrations from our activity and images of participants are in the slideshow below.

Amy Copeland
Coordinator of Go van Gogh Outreach

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