Can creativity be measured? A Duel
Posted By Kerry Chappell and Jon May on behalf of the Dance Educators’ Committee
This post derives from a duel held at the symposium for the In the Dancers’ Mind project at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on December 7, 2017. Here, speakers Dr Kerry Chappell and Professor Jon May, recreate their discussion with the aim of provoking your thoughts. Tell us what you think in the comments below or on social media. Can and should creativity in dance be measured?
Dr Kerry Chappell
To answer this question, we need to answer two other questions first:
1. How are we defining creativity?
2. How do we know the world?
We need to answer these two questions because our definition and our way of knowing will determine the way in which we do our research.
So, to answer question 1, at its simplest, I define creativity as ‘embodied dialogue that leads to valuable new ideas’. In line with post-human scholar Rose Braidotti (2013), I would argue that creativity is embodied across multiple players, that is, it is inherent within human and other-than-human. For example, a table is a creative player, it invites me to create with it in multiple ways. I would like to be very, very clear that creativity is not situated in individuals. In line with the philosopher Bakhtin (2010), I would argue that dialogue and therefore creativity happens in the space in between people, in between ideas, and in between objects. Creativity is the ongoing processing of curious questions leading to more curious questions. ‘Performances’ are snapshots within that process.
Now the second question – how do we know the world? For me, the world is full of multiple perspectives. I do not believe that there are single truths to be discovered, but that we can partially come to know aspects of the world.
So, if I take my definition of creativity and the way that I know the world and I ask myself ‘how do I research creativity?’, my answer is that I should document, explore and characterise its qualities, I am not logically taken down the path of saying ‘I must measure this’. I have therefore spent 15 years documenting, exploring and characterising creativity in multiple educational settings. I have used tools such as conceptual drawing, filming, photography, dialoguing with people about their creativity, and asking them to reflect on it (e.g. Chappell, 2018, in press).
Tests such as the Torrance Test for Creativity (TTCT; 1966) do test an individual’s ability to be fluent, original, flexible and to elaborate. The TTCT tasks include, for example, figural and verbal activities such as asking questions about drawings on a page, identifying alternative uses for objects, making changes to a toy animal to make it more fun to play with and creating drawn images from a series of shapes. The test claims that the different activities indicate people’s ability to think originally and be imaginative. These abilities may be part of what happens in creativity but they are not the whole of it. So, when a study measures those four abilities and claims to be able to make comment on creativity per se, I question that.
I want to end with two examples. One from my own research, and one from Rosemary Lee’s research within ResCen into her own creative practice. A dance artist within one of my research studies describing creativity said, ‘there’s a black hole of exploration, but after the black hole there has to be a white wall’ (Chappell, Rolfe, Craft and Jobbins, 2011).
Rosemary Lee puts a spotlight on the importance of ‘expectant waiting’ as key to her creativity (Lee, 2007). Expectant waiting foregrounds the importance of waiting in creative dance making, of giving time and of trusting that material will emerge from the process. I put it to you – that we cannot measure the process of the white wall after the black hole of exploration nor can we measure the process of ‘expectant waiting’. What we can do is embrace those processes with research and tools that are appropriate to them – tools that acknowledge that creativity is dialogic, embodied, spatial and materially dispersed.
Professor Jon May
Can we measure creativity? No, not directly, but perhaps we can measure the psychological processes and resources that enable someone to be creative, and so obtain an indirect or predictive measure of the likelihood that they will be creative. Arguably, we can’t even measure creative output or success either, directly. The only way that we can say if someone has done something creative is through consensus, because there is no clear way to say whether any given work of art or idea or argument or thought is in itself ‘creative’ or a result of creative activity.
Such an approach is the basis of the Consensual Assessment Technique advocated by Amabile (1982), and of the many biographical questionnaires which ask people about the recognition that they have achieved. If we are happy to use these indirect measures of the things that are created, we should also be happy to use indirect measures of creative ability. In this way, creativity is no different to other psychological phenomena. We cannot measure intelligence, or even define it well, and yet there are widely used tests of intelligence which predict future educational success, occupational status, and income levels. These tests work, and so measure intelligence, even though we do not really understand or agree what intelligence is. They do so by combining a lot of small mental tasks that people agree an intelligent person would be able to do faster or more accurately than a less intelligent person. Similarly, we can come to a consensus about the small things a creative person will probably have to do as part of being creative, and measure them.
Three things stand out: the ability to come up with ideas rapidly (fluency), to change between different ideas or concepts (flexibility), and to produce unusual ideas (originality) (Guilford, 1957). You can see how these ideas might be manifest in dance practice in our previous blog post by Becca Weber and Klara Lucznik here. The more you can do all of these, the more likely you are to be able to be creative. Strictly speaking, you have creative ability, but you need more than this to actually be creative. Being a fluent, flexible and original thinker provides you with the mental basis to succeed in a creative task, but you also need domain expertise to fill in the content of the ideas, and to recognise which of your ideas are worth developing, and to have the skills to turn the ideas into a product within the domain. A highly creative dancer, with many years experience of dance practice, has a very different set of domain knowledge to an innovative graphic designer or software engineer or theoretical physicist, and no-one would expect any of them to succeed in the domains that they have not become an expert in; but they should all be expected to perform well on the three core abilities that support creative thought.
Measuring the basis of creativity does allow us to predict crudely an individual’s creative potential, but it has to be taken in conjunction with their ability to apply that potential within a domain in order to be realised. There is likely to be little overlap between domain specific measures of creativity which include skills relevant to just one domain, so measures of dance creativity which include movement, or production or memory of dance sequences, will not differentiate creative painters, poets, or engineers. Tests based on fluency, flexibility and originality, should. So overall, I would say that the answer to the question ‘can we measure creativity?’ is ‘no; but yes’.
Have your say – can creativity be measured?
Our most engaged comments will be added to the blog to continue the debate!
In The Dancer’s Mind is a longitudinal and cross-sectional research project into creativity, novelty, and the imagination, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and being undertaken by Plymouth University, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Coventry University.
Dr Kerry Chappell is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at Exeter University, where she leads the MA Education Creative Arts specialism and provides dance expertise to the course. Kerry also co-leads the Centre for Creativity, Sustainability and Educational Futures and is a PhD and EdD supervisor. Kerry continues to work as a dance-artist within Exeter-based dance lab collective. Her research includes creativity in arts, science and interdisciplinary education and educational futures, alongside participatory research methodologies.
Professor Jon May is Professor of Psychology at the School of Psychology, Plymouth University, UK. His teaching and research interests include cognitive psychology, cognition and emotion, and applied psychology. His research currently centres on the role that mental imagery has in behaviour change, motivation and creativity.
Amabile, T. M. (1982). Social psychology of creativity: A consensual assessment technique. Journal of personality and social psychology, 43(5), 997.
Bakhtin, M.M., (2010). The dialogic imagination: Four essays(Vol. 1). University of Texas Press.
Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press. Chappell, K., Rolfe, L., Craft, A., & Jobbins, V. (2011) Close Encounters: Dance Partners for Creativity. Stoke on Trent: Trentham.
Chappell, K. (2018, in press). From wise humanising creativity to (post-humanising) creativity. In A. Harris, P. Thomson & K. Snepvangers, Creativity Policy, Partnerships and Practice in Education. Palgrave Macmillan.
Guilford, J.P. (1957). Creative abilities in the arts. Psychological review, 64(2), p.110.
Lee, R. (2007). Expectant waiting. In Bannerman, C. et al., (eds.). Navigating the unknown: The creative process in contemporary performing arts. Middlesex University Press, UK.
Torrance, E. P., Ball, O. E., & Safter, H. T. (1966). Torrance tests of creative thinking. Scholastic Testing Service.