Each week as I “walk the walls” of our school, I enjoy the various examples of student work on bulletin boards and other locations throughout the buildings. In particular, I am attracted to a range of work in the visual arts created by students from age four to fourteen. In that ten-year gap, there is a lot of creativity happening. While we strive to support and value all areas of learning at our school, the arts hold a unique place among our students – a catalyst to challenge, uplift, inspire and promote creativity and imagination. “The greatest scientists are artists as well,” said Albert Einstein. As one of the greatest physicists of all time (…and a fine amateur pianist and violinist), he ought to have known. So what did Einstein mean and what does it tell us about the nature of creative thinking and how we should stimulate it?
In her book, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, author Alice Calaprice says that Einstein’s genius and insight did not come from logic or mathematics. It came, as it does for artists, from intuition and inspiration. As Einstein told one friend, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge.” He also added that “all great achievements of science start from intuitive knowledge.”
This is fascinating stuff! To be honest, I have appreciated this throughout my life and career by intuition, as well as through the direct observation of many talented students and adults with whom I have worked. The most talented, intellectual, high-achieving and happiest among them have all deeply respected the arts. This is one reason why the public sector trend of cutbacks in the area of artistic learning over the past twenty years is so confounding. Why are the arts always the first thing on the chopping block when school boards and districts review fiscal bottom lines? It is actually a very anti-intellectual trend.
Thankfully, the rich tradition of “honouring the arts”, in all its forms, is well-respected and well-established at our school.
Where does this respect and understanding for the arts as “the great integrator” begin? Why, in the primary years of course! Contrary to the belief of some detractors, the arts are not “fluff”. Properly understood, the study of the arts in all its forms promotes imagination, inspiration, intellectual curiosity and authentic sense of self. If you don’t believe this, ask a child when he is little if he considers himself to be an artist. Invariably, he will answer, “Yes!” Then ask the same child the same question a few years later (after the prevailing culture has “told him” the arts don’t matter) and he might not be so sure. In a learning environment that values and supports the arts, the answer he gives should not change.
In our quest for knowledge and things we can “measure”, let’s not forget another great axiom of Professor Einstein’s – “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.
There’s no arguing the point that Albert Einstein was a man of superior insight, creative genius and intellect. I bet some contemporary intellectual elites in our modern culture would have looked upon the child Einstein and considered him to be “less than”. I guess the joke’s on them.
Ric Anderson, Head of School