Academics and the arts: an oxymoron?
When I was little I used to compose songs in the bathtub, in my room, on the playground... I remember one in particular was about a swan and even won an elementary school composition contest. Music and dance were my life and I trusted, deep down, that I had a gift. I happily auditioned for anything and everything, never felt nervous, and loved performing.
Fast forward 18yrs. and I'm graduating from grad school in voice and doubting almost everything that comes out of my mouth. College theory class assignments for composing were torturous and were completed agonizingly as I was convinced that I didn't - and couldn't - compose. I had left dancing and flute and piano behind because of time constraints and a need to focus. Performing took increasingly more energy as I was faced with nerves, and I wasn't sure I had ever really had a gift.
As I started teaching voice and then had children, I noticed similar patterns. My young daughter could sing literally all day long, but my high school students would come in hoarse after an intense choral rehearsal.
My younger students had immense imagination for their songs and easily adapted to technical tweaks and enjoyed the full joy of singing. By the time they got to leaving high school or beyond, though, anxiety, doubt, and struggle would often accompany the first year of voice lessons or more.
How do we start out so free, full of innate creativity, imagination, joy, and ease around our self-expression and so often end up with so little?
I have my own theories and I do believe it's a complex issue, but I recently came upon a study by Dr. George Land, who was asked by NASA to create a test for creativity for their engineers. Later, they applied this test to children and found that at 4-5 yrs old, 98% of the kids fell in the genius category of imagination, which is what creativity really is. They then turned the research into a longitudinal study and found that by age 10, only 30% fell in the genius category. At 15, only 12%. By adults, only 2%.
Turns out, my discoveries and experiences aren't so unique!
The culprit, Dr. Land proclaims, is our educational model and system, which teaches both divergent (imaginative) and convergent (critical) thinking skills to occur at the same time.
So we're having all these ideas and then are asked to judge, compare, criticize, and evaluate them!
When applied to the arts, especially, which are a way to express the deepest part of ourselves, we can end up judging, criticizing, and comparing our very souls. A sure way to kill not only the creative spirit, but also the belief that we have something worth expressing.
Now, this is not to say that training and technique aren't important parts of being an artist or that school isn't valuable in many ways. Technique is what gives us the ability to speak what lies within in a consistent, functional way. It is to say, however, that without awareness and consciousness on the part of teachers and students, artistry and authentic self-expression is often lost.
Lost to wounding, to doubt, to shame, to fear, to judgement, criticism, and needless comparison.
And without artistry and a belief that there is a place for us and our authentic voice, we are no longer expressing ourselves or the unique creative genius with which we were born. The genius that, I believe, is the whole purpose of being alive.
Academics and the arts: an oxymoron? In general, it appears so according to the research by Dr. George Land. But it does depend on your personal fortitude and the teachers you encounter.
Inspired to reconnect with the creative genius of your childhood?
Dr. Land recommends practicing divergent thinking: sit down with a fork and think of 25 ways you can use it.
Or start the journey. The journey back to yourself, underneath all the social conditioning, the school programming, the expectations from friends, parents, teachers, and family. Do the inner work to remember that inner 5 year old, or 2 year old, who was of pure creative genius and authentic expression.
If you want some help, reach out and schedule a free discovery session! It's one of my things.