Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Challenging homogeneity in culture through creativity. Or - Who? me?

One of the interesting things about being in Beijing is meeting the ex-pat community, seeing visions of Beijing and China through eyes which are non European, comparing my perceptions with theirs – thus, telling me something about where I am from and what I’m carrying around in my head as a result of that.

An interesting conversation last night with two Americans and an Italian has left me thinking about the nature of creativity in society, about our response to our environment. The thesis set forward by American 1 is that the world is becoming more homogenous, so quickly that it is practically impossible for individuals to be individuals - to not just become a media controlled homogenous non thinking consuming beast, stripped of humanity. The argument continued to state that our visions of the future are typically that machines will become more capable of aping humanity, but that actually, it is humans who are beginning to ape machines, incapable of feeling, creating or empathising. I’m not exaggerating this view, these really are words that were used.

While I would agree that there is a huge amount of media, showing an ever increasingly bland output of human creation, I wonder whether this intrinsically leads to a loss of humanity somehow. I think to believe this we somehow have to have lost trust in that beautiful spark inside each person, the spark that loves and allows us to be loved, the spark which wants to share, the spark which is capable of defining it’s own beauty. Can this really be extinguished?

I would also agree that the onslaught of technology may not be something that we are able to adapt to as quickly as it hits us. I’m in my mid 30’s, I did not experience the internet, or video for that matter until I was in my early 20’s. I certainly was not brought up to expect or know how to cope with constant upgrades, software developments, handsets, operating systems etc. It’s something I’m having to learn as I go, like everyone alive. But what’s to say that the generations who are born to this world, will have such a tough time as we sometimes do?

It may also be the case that the humanity has a harder time shining through, as the internet becomes more standardized, it’s no longer a free for all, with no rules of the road, corporations are beginning to definite the structure of how it will function for hundreds of years, in the same way that early car designers had to figure out a standardized way of presenting controls of a motor vehicle, and then governments and corporations had to figure out how to standardise road behavior. As this structure is lead by large corporations in the quest for cash, the windows open to creative networks become smaller, we operate within a framework set by someone making profit.

So how to we support these coming generations in defining their own sense of self? How do we support them in knowing the difference between consuming the world as it is presented to them, and creating the world that they want to? I would argue (and did) that one of the most vital responses to this homogenisation is creative education. In creative activities, there is no right, no wrong, there are only decisions – do I paint this green or red? Then, we review the choices based on our own personal preference – I think I prefer it red after all. In teaching creativity in schools, through the arts, we teach people to think for themselves, to sift information, to make decisions, to reflect on those decisions and to continue their decision making process based on those reflections.

This circle of Thesis, Action, Reflection, Thesis, is not available to children in other subjects at primary or secondary level, where what we are subliminally teaching is that “There is a correct answer and the person in charge will usually confirm or deny that you have got it” This mode of thought creates workers, who are told what to do by someone in authority, and generally they do it. Creative teaching creates people, citizens, who take responsibility, look at evidence, make decisions, and get to know themselves and their preferences in the process.

I see this when working with my 9 year old Chinese student. When I first met him, he was struggling to string a sentence together in English, which I took to mean that he was a real beginner. During our first lesson however, I discovered he has a wide English language vocabulary, which is not represented by his ability to communicate. The problem is that he has been taught the information, but not taught how to be creative with it, how to form sentences, how to express himself. He can do what he’s told, but he can’t think for himself. (OK he’s only 9! He’s amazing for a 9 year old, this is more a critique of a teaching style than him personally).

Of course, it is not necessarily in the interests of a government to create thinking, decision making, critical thinking citizens, some would argue that this is the antithesis of what a government is looking for. Which is why it is up to us, the creative people, those who have stepped out of the safety of knowing the answers and live in a world where there are no answers. We need to support young people to develop those skills, and I think it can be as easy as giving them the opportunity.

I take as an example, the project I’ve been lucky enough to work on at Horsecross Arts in Perth this year. It’s a youth band, 13 – 18 playing traditional Scottish music with a big band Jazz feel. As I was collecting feedback for the evaluation soundscape I’m making, one of the young people said to me “The best thing about being in the band, is that now, I listen to music, and I know what I like, I mean, not just One Direction [insert generic pop band here] but real music, played by amazing musicians”. She had learnt how to evaluate what she was hearing, and make decisions about what she liked, and then focus her searches in those areas.

Personally, I felt that American 1 was allowing his view of the world to be more influenced by his personal circumstances than objectivity (don’t we all?) I asked him what his job was – he said “Advertising, tricking people into buying crap they don’t need”. We have a number of levels of choices in the world, we can choose to see the dystopian future, or deny it, if we choose to see it, we can choose to allow it to floor us and retreat into a cave of impotence, or we can try to find ways to protect ourselves and those around us from it. And it can be as easy as joining a local music group, or volunteering to teach English to 9 year olds.