Blog Post - March/April 2019
In this post I am talking about creativity, specifically how it is framed in higher education (HE) as being highly individual and the challenges this creates for graduates and the creative economy.
“Individuality is fundamental to your creative development, personal philosophy and direction.”
The quote above is an example from a course description included in a review of course marketing for craft degrees I conducted right at the start of my PhD. Similar statements can be found on course websites and in programme specifications for many craft disciplines. What emerged at this very early stage of my study was an emphasis on students developing their unique creative voice and developing an individual career path. This was a theme I went on to observe in my case studies.
This pursuit of craft as a form of individual self-expression is interesting as craft has a socially orientated, utilitarian heritage, associated with the Arts & Crafts Movement in Britain but still found today in communities where craft production supports sustainable economic development. The development of studio craft, the inclusion of craft in the HE system and the overall expansion of the contemporary field (towards fine art) has resulted in the adoption of more individualised practices. This also corresponds with economic and industrial shifts and the growth of independent studios and sole traders and micro-enterprises in the sector.
I am not saying that creative expression is a bad thing or denying that it can be beneficial to have a distinct style or sense of creative identity (commercially and in attracting galleries). What I am suggesting is that the overly individualised discourse around creativity perpetuated by higher education and institutions of the creative economy could limit collaboration and contribute to the oversupply of creative graduates seeking precarious, independent work as creative producers. Over-specialisation can also limit graduates’ technical skill base, the adaptability or development of their work and their employment opportunities.
The development of more collaborative approaches to education is also inhibited by assessment frameworks (HE, and further down the system) and the emphasis on individual attainment. While not necessarily preventing future collaboration or collectivisation (i.e. shared studios), I argue this framework instils a reliance on individual achievement in the mindset of students and that this approach is then taken into professional practice.
I want to stress that this is a flaw in the system rather than the fault of individual programmes, but also call for educators to foster modes of practice that are more collaborative and more sustainable (economically and environmentally). In practical terms, this could involve the development of more collaborative creative briefs (disciplinary and interdisciplinary) and collective assessments throughout the programme including final year, encouraging resource pooling and engagement with studio co-operatives and collectives to expose students to more collaborative models of production and enterprise. I’m sure there are examples of this happening already, particularly on courses with an emphasis on design. I would be interested to hear from educators and makers about their experiences, particularly those who have attempted or succeeded in developing collective assessment frameworks.
As always, I look forward to sharing further thoughts, findings and recommendations from my research with you in this final stage of my PhD.