UNESCO Conference logoNear the end of May we'll be leaving for Seoul, Korea to deliver the opening keynote speech at UNESCO's 2nd World Conference on Arts Education. We're excited to have this opportunity to talk about some of our favorite things - imaginative thinking, creativity, and the profound role art can play in educating for both. Here's a peek at what we'll have to say, the "abstract" of our talk...

Our theme is "Arts at the Center" of creative imagination and, thus, at the center of education. Whether we consider the intractable nature of hunger, poverty and systemic injustice or the economic imperatives of a global village, the 21st century demands renewed attention to creative imagination. As Mitchel Resnick, of MIT's Media Lab, writes: "In today's rapidly changing world, people must continually come up with creative solutions to unexpected problems. Success is based not only on what you know or how much you know, but on your ability to think and act creatively" (Resnick, 2007). So pressing is this need, for individuals, nations and cultures, that education for imagination and creativity becomes an essential social right. To this educational enterprise, the arts provide the key.

We will support this argument by demonstrating four theses that have formed the backbone of much of our research:

1) Arts and crafts underpin innovation in science and technology. Indeed, many scientists and inventors, some among the most eminent, have nurtured their professional creativity with arts and crafts avocations. Statistical studies corroborate the link between arts and crafts practice and scientific creativity.

2) Scientists can invent new arts and artists can discover new sciences. Mixtures of arts and sciences yield new arts such as electronic painting and electronic music, as well as new sciences and technologies, such as camouflage and computer programming. In fact, such innovations often require the melding of scientific and artistic knowledge.

3) Arts and crafts correlate with creativity not only in the sciences, but in disciplines as disparate as literature and business. We explore this thesis with exemplary Nobel laureates in the sciences, literature, economics and peace categories. We look beyond Nobel circles in the arts and sciences; we offer evidence that arts avocations appear prevalent among entrepreneurs and successful businessmen, too. Again, statistical analysis of group data suggests that the link between arts and crafts avocations and creativity holds true not only in science, but in a wide range of disciplines.

4) Finally, arts and crafts correlate with creativity because they involve personal mastery of creative process and its underlying "tools for thinking." In our book, Sparks of Genius, we identify and describe 13 of these imaginative tools, including observing, imaging, abstracting, pattern recognition, pattern forming, analogizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, body thinking, empathizing, playing, transforming, and synthesizing (synthetic thinking or what we call synosia). These tools are readily and explicitly exercised in the arts, from childhood through adulthood, and they are transferable from the arts to other forms of learning and knowledge-making - all of which makes the arts essential in any effort to school for creativity across the board, in all disciplines.

UNESCO Conference themeWe conclude with three take-home messages: 1) arts and crafts develop skills, tools, concepts, structures, and knowledge that are useful to many other disciplines; 2) arts and crafts develop mastery of the creative imagination, its processes and its thinking tools; 3) the arts are therefore useful to all education, in the same ways that language arts and mathematics are useful. In sum, arts and crafts-and the thinking tools they exercise-belong at the center of education because they can and will ignite the creative imagination vital to those high-level innovations in science, politics, economics, and culture that must lead us into the future.

...As you may know, over the last couple of years we've touched on these points in a number of posts to this blog. Now we look forward with great anticipation to the UNESCO conference itself. As we participate in this gathering of people and institutions from around the world we'll keep our eyes and ears wide open. We'll learn all we can about international concern for the conference theme, "Arts for Society, Education for Creativity." And we'll let you know what we find out.

© Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein 2010

Resnick, M. (2007). Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society. Learning & Leading with Technology, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) (December/January 2007-8, pp. 18-22). Available at http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/Learning-Leading-final.pdf

The Second World Conference on Arts Education, UNESCO @

About the Author

Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein

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

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