Drawing outside the lines: how do we encourage creativity?

Art education is something that never fails to be undervalued, and few of us are encouraged to pursue artistic interests seriously. The art world is seen as unstable, and there is always a shadow of a question mark over how 'useful' it really is- will we be able to count it's value in pounds and pence? Creativity is something that should be nurtured, however, so how do we encourage it from an early age?

Education is often about competition and measurable success – how do you design an artistic curriculum within such parameters?  If art is supposed to be about self-expression, then exams are about the opposite. For a good grade you must be right or wrong; and art forms, whatever the medium, simply don’t allow for that.

I’ve always loved art, but my mum told me that I was not good at it. By this she meant that taking it as a GCSE was a risk because I might get a B in the subject (the horror!). This is just about the only occasion she’s ever got me to change my mind about something- she persuaded me to take Latin instead and it was, ironically enough, my only B. That was ok though, because a B in Latin is a very different thing to a B in art… apparently.

This choice had very little to do with my enjoyment of either, I loved art and loathed Latin, but the important thing was that my success was measurable. Our dismissal of the artworld is often taught young and applies itself in a circle hard to avoid. Art is not valued, the budget for everything from museums to newspapers is shrinking at a terrifying rate, and so we are discouraged from pursuing this as an option. Due to the fact we are discouraged from further study in artistic areas, we are often largely ignorant of much outside the mainstream and we continue to undervalue art; failing to protect its future.

Ultimately, art is intended to be a hobby. A hobby requires leisure time, so art is reserved for the middle and upper classes to enjoy. Even those who do brave it as a career will have unstable incomes for years, and can only do so with family backing. Saying ‘art is a hobby’ seems to trivialise art, which of course it does, but it also ensures it remains wrapped up in the world of the elite.

Due to this and the idea of ‘high and low’ culture that seems impossible to shift, there are only certain forms of art that are deemed valid. So, it turns out you can reduce art to being about measurable success after all. It’s a trivial comparison perhaps, but right from an early age we are given copies of masterpieces and told to colour them in, to draw neatly inside the lines. Even then, we are not encouraging imagination or communication of self-expression; things that, in my opinion, art are all about.