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This paper highlight the necessity for including creative expression as a way to foster the growth of the psychological energies and the higher superconscious talents.
CREATIVE EXPRESSION IN EDUCATION
(Its Purpose, Process, Techniques and Results)
By, ROBERTO ASSAGIOLI , Source: Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1963
A subject of this magnitude would demand a whole book if it were to be dealt with adequately. The limitations of an article permit me merely to indicate in a concise manner, almost in the form of a summary, some points that I consider basic and are perhaps not always sufficiently emphasized and applied. Therefore I am counting not only on the intelligent understanding to be expected of the readers of this periodical owing to their cultural level, but also on their active cooperation in developing the suggestions that follow and putting them to practical use in their capacity as educators.
The methods of creative expression can be applied in every kind of school and with pupils of every age, and also by parents in the education of their children. Their application is made easier by the fortunate fact that their effectiveness does not depend on the prior solution of the many theoretical problems involved. On the contrary, those interested in these problems may confidently expect the practical applications to yield material that will contribute considerably to their solution.
A preliminary point of importance, and one that needs to be clearly realized, is the difference between creativity in general, particularly in connection with education, and artistic creativity, i.e., the production of works that have aesthetic value. The absence of this distinction is apt to create confusion- and complicate the subject unnecessarily. Its adoption, on the other hand, obviates the necessity of our discussing aesthetic theories, which are diverse and conflicting, the difficult question of the criteria of aesthetic valuation, and also all problems related to skill in expression.
Two contrasted examples will clearly demonstrate this point. In one direction, there can be great expertise in expression, proficiency in formal techniques, without any meaningful or valuable content. As a French critic sharply remarked about a writer: “He has nothing to say, but how well he says it!” In the other, there are writers and creative workers with valuable ideas but little ability to clothe them in clear and adequate terms. In this connection, one may perhaps mention Thomas Carlyle, a great thinker, even if some of his ideas may be debatable, whose sometimes clumsy style did much to obscure their presentation. Probably no present-day editor would publish an essay of his without a good deal of revision and streamlining. (whether this would really result in an improvement is a question that may be left open in the present discussion.) Skill in presentation, therefore, and perfection of form play little or no part in the educational usefulness of creative expression.
Before proceeding it would be well to establish a clear frame of reference in view of the different and conflicting psychological doctrines that exist at present. By this I mean a definite conception of the psychological constitution of the human being, of that which may be called the “psychological space” or field .within which the creative process takes place. The following diagram with its brief description illustrates this frame of reference in a simple manner. It has been found useful in other Contexts (Assagioli, 1959 1961).
The Creative Process
There is general agreement, and ample proof in support of it, that the creative process often starts, and is almost wholly carried through, in the unconscious part of our psychological being. But not enough attention has been called to the existence of the different levels of the unconscious- levels different in origin, nature and quality, and. therefore yielding very different results of their activity. This point will be discussed later on; at present I shall give a brief description of the process of creativity itself in its various stages.
The analogy with physical creativity is very close and illuminating. The first stage is that of conception – the result of fecundation. In the case of psychological creativity, the fecundating, stimulating factors can be many and may be divided into two main classes: external stimuli and internal drives.
The first group will be dealt with in the section on the means for inducing and fostering creative expression. Let us consider now the inner, spontaneous urges. Every strong drive tends to express itself outwardly, in action, and when this is defiled, inhibited or repressed, it seeks and may find indirectly manifestation and a measure of satisfaction through some kind of creative expression.
Even without recourse to any subtle psychoanalytic investigation, it is evident that many literary products represent such an indirect expression of the strong drives, desires and emotions of the writer. Many of the countless love poems and love stories of every age can be regarded as instances of this. In some cases a writer has made conscious and deliberate use of this process, as did Wagner who, while he was preparing Tristan and Isolde states in a letter to Liszt: “As in my life I have never enjoyed the true happiness of love, I want to raise a monument to this most beautiful among all dreams, in which this love shall be fully satisfied, from beginning to end. I am planning a ‘Tristan and Isolde.”
The second stage of the creative process is that of gestation or elaboration, of growth and development from the initial “ovum,” so to speak; it generally takes place in the unconscious. Sometimes it may be partly conscious as well, with alternating stages of conscious and unconscious activity. It may require much time or it may be very short, and in cases of simple direct expression practically non-existent. This often happens in children.
The third stage represents the “birth” of the product. Subjectively it is the moment of “inspiration” and it can be objectively described as the passing of the “psychological child” from the unconscious to the conscious area of the personality. The individual becomes aware of, and is often amazed by, the inrush of the creature of his unconscious creativity, which takes some form of objective expression, verbal or nonverbal. The birth can occur at very different stages of development, just as happens with the physical offspring of various animal species. Sometimes the creature is complete and vital; in other cases it is still an immature foetus which needs further growth. This, in the case of psychological creations, entails the work of developing, polishing and “putting into shape” the more or less inchoate product that has emerged.
Means and Techniques of Expression
These can be divided into two primary classes: verbal and non-verbal expression. The latter includes not only drawing, painting, modelling and musical expression, but also expressive movement – dance, pantomime, psycho-drama, etc. Recently a growing emphasis has rightly been put on encouraging the use of non-verbal means of expression, which for many is the most direct and easy way. Moreover, the unconscious generally prefers non-verbal ways of presentation, since they are better suited to the expression of symbolic meanings. In a wide sense one might say that every expression is symbolical; in verbal expression abstract terms are etymologically symbols of external realities: for instance, spirit from the Latin spirare, to breathe; anima (soul) from anemos (Greek for wind).
Symbols can be regarded as images or pictures expressing, or hiding, either some general or abstract idea, or some meaningful condition and situation. The psychological function that gives expression to a meaning through images and symbolic picture is the imagination; and this important function is active in us almost continuously, not only when we are awake but also during sleep through dreaming. Because this relating and expressive function is thus creative, it is accurate to speak of “creative imagination.” Such creative imagination precedes all creative expression.
This preliminary and general survey has cleared the way for a more detailed consideration of the use of creative expression in education. The first point that arises concerns the spontaneous results of such expression. We shall then deal with the methods by which it can be fostered, regulated and directed for educational purposes.
Results of Creative Expression
Previous reference has been made to the fact that the effects of expression are very different according to the level from which they originate. Their most common and frequent sources are the drives, urges, desires and emotions that spring from the lower and middle levels of the unconscious. Two of these basic drives, the sexual and the combative or aggressive, demand special attention, since they give rise to serious and urgent educational problems.
An examination of the present world situation from the psychological angle clearly reveals that most of its evils and dangers are due to the lack of proper control and constructive utilization of these compelling energies, which motivate and often actually obsess both individuals and groups. Therefore the exploration of appropriate methods of bringing them under control, providing them with harmless outlets, and exploiting them to the utmost for useful and constructive purposes is an urgent educational sociological and even political task. This entails the transformation, and whenever possible, the sublimation of these energies.
Such transformations should be recognized as not being something artificial, something to be achieved by imposition. The process is a natural psychological one and, to some measure, often comes about spontaneously. The sublimation of sexuality has been described and dealt with by psychoanalysis and literature, especially biography, abounds in instances of the transformation of sexual into emotional, romantic and idealistic love. Equally obvious is the satisfaction of combative drives vicariously derived from watching others in aggressive situations, such as bull-fights, boxing and competitive sports, and in fights in films, such as Westerns. On a higher level many evidence instances of the use of combative energies for fighting injustice and social ills and in the service of humanitarian causes could be pointed out.
But such transformations are not easy or exempt from undesirable consequences; and, apart from this, the need to extend the process, to promote and guide it by every possible means, is indeed a pressing one. Such means exist and are available. What is required is to spread the knowledge of them and teach and encourage their application in all departments of human life (See Transmutation and Sublimation of Sexual Energies, by Roberto Assagioli).
Among these means, a very effective one, extensively applicable in education, is creative expression. Its first direct result is release or catharsis. Aristotle has described the catharsis produced by the participation of the spectator in. the emotions expressed in drama or tragedy in the theatre. But the catharsis that results from creative techniques is achieved in a more direct and satisfactory manner.
Creative expression can manifest itself in crude and primitive forms or be the outcome of the process of elaboration previously mentioned. The fact that it sometimes adopts a symbolical form does not diminish its liberating effect, for both unconscious and conscious urges can often find adequate outlet via an indirect, symbolical satisfaction. This presents opportunities for extensive application in psychotherapy, education and mass leadership.
The creative expression that originates in the higher, super-conscious level of the unconscious is of a different kind. It proceeds from the activation or awakening of potentialities that, while they exist in the average human being, are often dormant. They at times are aroused under the powerful stimulation of some unusual stress or emergency, or in response to some strong appeal. Among these higher urges, desires and aspirations, which have lately been recognized by a number of psychologists, are: the urge to self-expression; the need to know or understand the meaning of life; love in its higher aspects of compassion and altruism; the aspiration to commune with a larger whole and with higher realities and beings; the realization and expression of higher values of an ethical, aesthetic and religious nature.
These higher urges find in modern life a climate that usually not only fails to encourage and stimulate them but is often unfavourable or hostile. Regarded as having no apparent practical or economic value, the functions of feeling and imagination and the various forms of spiritual realization are neglected and repressed in the anxious drive for efficiency and success. They are not understood or appreciated, and may be looked on as queer and somehow disturbing. So when children spontaneously give expression to them; and this they are more apt to do than adults, having fewer inhibitions – not seldom they are ridiculed or hushed by their “sensible” elders. This produces repressions, analogous in one sense and contrary in another to those of the lower drives, and has serious consequences, such as rebellion, depression, a sense of psychological isolation, confusion and bewilderment.
The creative expression of the higher urges yields most positive effects. It bestows joy and increases zest in life, it widens the field of consciousness, it fosters the “peak experiences” so well described by Maslow (1962). Thus it helps to integrate the various aspects and functions of the personality into a larger and richer whole, to bring about its psychosynthesis. It starts a process of inner creativity, which may culminate in a real creation or re-creation of the personality.
Besides these general effects, the awakening of superconscious contents and their penetration into the conscious area of the personality have specific and very beneficial results. One is an early manifestation of vocational aptitudes, which sometimes are clearly revealed by the type and quality of what is expressed. Mechanical skills, literary or artistic gifts, organizing power-all may emerge and be a source of joyous self-revelation to the child or adolescent. He experiences within him a lively, sometimes enthusiastic, interest in cultivating and developing his discovered potentialities. In some cases these are of such a high order that the child or youth is recognized to be a super-gifted individual. There should be little need to emphasize the importance of such a discovery, both for the individual himself and humanity as a whole. But, although the discovery and appropriate education of this precious human material, this “psychological uranium,” is beginning to be recognized as one of the most important and rewarding of educative endeavours, it is as yet far from receiving adequate attention and application. (See References.)
Techniques of Creative Expression
Adequate information is available about the principles and general techniques of creative expression and since children and adolescents take to them readily and like them, they can easily be utilized in education. Indeed there is more need of regulation than of stimulation.
The simplest procedure is to put suitable material at the free disposal of the pupils. At first this may consist merely of sheets of paper and variously coloured pencils. Later, some plastic materials, easy to mould, can be provided. There are two ways in which the teacher can induce creative expression. One is to encourage the pupil to draw or model with complete freedom anything he wishes or that comes into his head. Also spoken and written expression should be encouraged. The other is to provide him with a starting-point, an idea or suggestion that will spur his imagination into creative activity. For instance, children can be given a word or short phrase indicating some simple object such as a mountain, the sea, a flower, a fruit or an animal, and then asked to build a story around it. It has been found that sounds and music also can easily kindle the imagination, particularly in pupils of the auditory type.
“Meaningful” pictures also provide effective incentives. This forms the basis of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) technique, but, whereas this test aims at the expression of repressed emotions and complexes, our purpose demands the display of pictures with aesthetic value and selected with a view to activating the superconscious trends. Pictures of this kind exist in great variety. One class includes pictures of great men and women and mythical figures who represent “ideal models.” Natural objects form another category and at first one can show simple, familiar ones with pleasant associations such as a flower or fruit; later, scenery expressing altitude, bigness and great expanses as high mountains, the sea, the heavens with their stars and galaxies.
Movement provides a type of direct expression which is enjoyed by children and adolescents alike. At first the teacher should direct simple, rhythmic motions, but later encourage the free, direct expression in movement of inner states, preferably the higher feelings of joy, wonder, admiration, etc.
The period between the cessation of the stimulus and the start of outer expression can be used for quiet “brooding” in silence. Even small children like and accept this, as the “exercise of silence” in the Montessori schools has shown. In the case of older children, this interlude can develop into actual meditation , in the form of either reflection or quiet contemplation of the object, idea or picture presented.
The Role of the educator
The emphasis on free creative expression does not mean that the task of the educator is reduced to an almost passive role; on the contrary, it demands active cooperation and much skill. He should endeavour to create a favourable psychological atmosphere, a positive rapport with the pupils and a good group feeling in the classroom. Then he has to give encouragement and appreciation of what is being accomplished.
Another important and more difficult function of the educator is to interpret accurately the symbolic meaning, often hidden, of what has been expressed. This is owing to the curious and interesting fact that frequently even adults have no idea, no conscious understanding of the real meaning of the content of what they have expressed. It happens currently with dreams and one of the aims of psychoanalysis is their interpretation; but the controversies this provokes indicate that the correct understanding of symbols is not arrived at easily. It requires a sound knowledge of psychology, plus a thorough study of the symbolic function and the individual and collective symbols it produces. It asks for a mind free from preconceived theories, an intuitive insight and finally much caution in formulating interpretations.
Sometimes the symbol contains a real message. It gives a clear picture of the existential situation or the central problem of the individual and indicates how it can be solved. In such cases the correct “deciphering” of the message has a vital educational importance.
A number of progressive educators have experimented with creative expression and used it more or less extensively in their work. There is no need to point out those in the U.S.A., as they are known to the readers of this Journal. The limitations of this article allow me to mention only a few instances in Europe, and one in South America.
Creative expression is encouraged in the Montessori schools; personality expression through movement is basic in the Dalcroze Institute (Geneva) and the eurhythmics adopted in the Steiner schools. Prof. Sofia Vignoli (Arezzo, Italy) uses expressive dancing and psychodrama. The” Ecole d’Art Martinot” of Paris employs most of the expressive techniques, but with artistic aims. Madame Berge, of Paris, has developed a method of physical culture deliberately designed to foster, in combination with other psychosynthetic techniques, the psychosynthesis of the pupils.
The work done in this field by a gifted Argentine educator, Mana Zazo Bonomo, merits a brief report. Her experiments in the use of creative imagination and expression have been carried on for several years with groups of pupils ranging from 4 to 14 years of age, mostly uncultured and picked from the streets. Here is one of the techniques she uses. In the class-room, after some moments of silence, she gives the beginning of a story and asks each pupil in turn to add a bit to it, visualizing the scene he or she contributes. For instance she says: “Let us imagine ourselves, say, at the bottom of the ocean. What do we see?” Or: “A ray of sunshine is advancing. What does it illumine?” Each pupil then adds his own contribution. This group creativity greatly interests the children and gives them a sense of co-authorship, of collective action. Sometimes Signora Zazo uses as initial stimulus some bars of a simple musical piece, such as those written by Schumann for children, or a berceuse, etc. She also helps them to appreciate the beauty of lines, colours and their combinations, and of the shapes of simple objects. The results have been very gratifying: release of pent-up energies (catharsis), joy, improved behaviour, self-discipline, cooperation (with the older children sometimes spontaneously helping the younger), and the discovery of artistic gifts. Some of the pupils have later become designers, decorators or architects.
In concluding may I state my conviction that the value and uses of creative expression can be regarded as well ascertained. Therefore I would emphasize that what is greatly needed, and should be the concern of all educators, is not so much theoretical discussion or analytical research, but to give to creative expression the attention and important place it demands in the curriculum of all schools, as well as in family education. Thus one of the most important aims of education will be achieved-that of e-ducing, of drawing out, the great human potentialities that exist, unrecognized and unused, in the unexplored higher levels of every human being.
ANDERSON, H. H. (Editor) Creativity and its Cultivation. New York, Harper, 1959.
ASSAGIOLI, R. Dynamic Psychology and Psychosynthesis. Greenville, Del. Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1959.
_ Sri/-Realization and Psychological Disturbances. Greenville, Del. Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1961.
_The Education 0f Gifted and Super-Gifted Children. Greenville, Del. Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1960.
MASLOW, A. H. Toward a Psychology of Being. New York, Van Nostrand, 1962.
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