Imagine That!

Annals of Ordinary and Extraordinary Genius

Teaching Creativity with TLC

Can creativity be taught? One New Zealand school shows how.
Last year, we had the incredible opportunity to discover first-hand an amazing school called The Learning Connection (TLC for short) located in Wellington, New Zealand. TLC is an art school that is more than an art school. It is, quite purposefully, a school for creators, no matter what road they take in life.

TLC is the brain child of Jonathan Milne, artist, teacher, writer and institution builder. At his invitation, we spent some time at TLC, talked with teachers and students, checked out an end-of-term exhibition of student work-and got to know Jonathan and his wife, Alice Wilson Milne, who provides the administrative genius for the school.

As a self-confessed many-edged peg incapable of fitting into pre-fab holes, Jonathan long ago decided to build a place where students and teachers alike joined in the journey towards creativity discovery. This meant developing an approach to teaching art that is all about nurturing personal and professional creativity. It has also meant developing novel educational structures that are all about engaging and supporting the student in that independent, self-sustaining growth.

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The Milnes insist that as their students grow as artists, they also grow as entrepreneurs, constantly asking themselves what is the effectiveness of their work in its own context and what creative strategies are being learned in and through their art that may serve as guides in other life endeavors.

They also insist that as TLC grows as a school, it also grows the relevance of its unique approach to creativity, reaching out to individuals beyond the arts with an interest in enhancing their inventive and entrepreneurial know-how.

The result is a course of study in the visual arts that is simultaneously a course of discovery in personal creativity and a harnessing of that creative method to any professional need. Theirs is a pioneering approach to education that puts self-choice learning in the driver's seat.

For those of us in the U.S. or Europe, Wellington is a long way to go, even for a top-notch educational opportunity. But do consider it! New Zealand is a stunning country, in all manner of ways. No matter where the both of us went, nature in all its grandeur delighted and impressed. The people we met thrummed with energy for the unbeaten path. And the flip side of that less-traveled path is opportunity.

What kind of opportunity? The history of creative accomplishment suggests that innovations, whether in science, art, or education, come from the peripheries, geographically speaking. This is true whether one looks at where new sciences such as biochemistry and immunology developed or new arts such as neo-impressionism or twelve-tone serial music. Innovators don't usually flourish inside the centers of culture precisely because they challenge its practices and its practitioners. If this pattern holds, we can expect the next big breakthrough in creative education to emerge from the periphery as well, and why not way down under?

Lucky for us, we need not (much as we ought to) all travel to New Zealand to profit from the Milnes' revolutionary ideas. Jonathan has just published a book called Go! The Art of Change that brings his insights to the rest of us-now. Go! is a wondrous achievement: a whole-brain guide to nurturing creative potential; a graphic delight comprised of student work and Jonathan's own photography; an inspired roadmap through new territories of the imagination. Disguised as a series of lessons in the visual arts, Go! actually models best practices for the teaching-and learning-of creativity in any discipline.

Everything about the pedagogy supports the creative process. Jonathan invites us to start drawing at ground zero. He invites us to start creating there, too, gently taking us through a learning spiral that begins with an idea, moves on to action, feedback and then feedforward. "Creativity is not about reinventing the wheel," writes Jonathan, but it is about "taking existing ideas into new places." He shows us how.

The method, transferable to any vocation or avocation that calls out for innovative thinking, is one well worth learning. And the inspiration is heady. Thanks to some of the suggestions in Go!, Bob's photography has taken new directions (Daylilies, shown left).

In response to an anonymous work at TLC (shown right), Michele has penned this haiku:

 

fingers poised
above the keyboard-
spring rain

 

Can creativity be taught? If anyone has succeeded, it is Jonathan and Alice Milne, who have embarked on the enterprise with infinite amounts of tender loving care. We highly recommend their book, and if it inspires you as much as it has inspired us, you can follow it up with a course of study at The Learning Connection.

The best innovation of all: TLC offers off-campus courses of study! If you can't make it to New Zealand in person, you can still get minds-on instruction from TLC by internet and mail. GO! for it!

Sources:

Go! The Art of Change (Steele Roberts Publishers, Wellington: 2008)
&
The Learning Connection at www.tlc.ac.nz

Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein are co-authors of Sparks of Genius, The 13 Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

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