Creative Arts: Everyone’s business in the twenty-first century

Originally published in 2010

‘Above all, we are coming to understand that the Arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art.’ John Fitzgerald Kennedy. President, United States of America 1961–1963.

In July of this year, the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, one of France’s most prestigious universities, organised a week long ‘festival of errors’. Concerned that the French education system is founded primarily on content knowledge rather than creativity,—and this focus appears to drive out any confidence in students to engage in flexibility of thought—some of the nation’s academics and education specialists decided it was time to encourage students to participate in a drive to make mistakes. In reporting on this initiative, the recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Davies, 2010) cited examples of great errors in history that were in fact wondrous discoveries that turned a tide in human history; in particular, the medical discoveries of Alexander Fleming and Louis Pasteur that arose out of unanticipated or erroneous actions.

Creative capability, including the capacity to learn from the instructive complications of error, has been a driver of progress in all areas of human endeavour and learning, not simply those areas of endeavour connected with the Arts. Yet, in more recent history, particularly in the wake of the 1950s science versus intellectual debate, highlighted in the famous essay of CP Snow, creativity has come to be viewed as something less than quantifiable, often beyond the rational suspect in terms of its amenability to the rigour required for credible educational and employable respect.

The continuing fall-out of this mindset has tended to relegate the Arts to the ‘soft’ end of education curricula. With Western education systems currently focussed on the technological and the measurable using means such as national testing targeting mathematical and language literacy, this ongoing divide between an economic digitally driven society and the Arts is perpetuated. Consequently, despite the fact that business and industry now champion the word creative, and are adopting the rhetoric of creativity as a key principal of desired practice in their domains, this movement has yet to feed back into the design of twenty-first century school curricula. Indeed, the potentially powerful and integral role of the Arts as a key node in school curricula continues to be, for the most part, diluted or worse, ignored.

This ‘hard/soft’ artificial divide is not delivering our students into the twenty-first century. It is disingenuous to believe that the so-called rigorous disciplines of learning, the spheres of research and the world of work do not rely on creative minds and aesthetic understandings. Given that so many of this century’s problems are so complex as to elude disciplinary thinking alone, aesthetics and the creative capabilities that they nurture are increasingly the platforms and intrinsic structures for knowledge building in this century. If there is a focus on employability of our graduates, then this employability is not built on specific course work disciplines and on credentialing alone.

In a recent online article, Jane Gooding-Brown (2010) writes about the dearth of aesthetic education in Australian schooling. The risk could be that teaching in the Arts, often relegated to poorly understood categories such as ‘performance’ do not truly demonstrate the power of aesthetic sensibility to complex thinking and creativity.

This is not to say that the Arts are not held in high esteem at many levels of society. Rather, it is this divide between the Arts as a social pastime, and the Arts as a legitimate part of an education and school curriculum that is a stumbling block to a full and satisfying growing of an aesthetic sensibility. In a social setting where we might legitimise the Arts, we are more often than not viewers, an audience, mostly participating in a receptive way and rarely as ‘insiders’ to the processes of the artistic output. Our involvement in the Arts as a social aspect, while stimulating intellectually and affectively, and essential to our humanity, tends to be experienced at a passive level, and is rarely acknowledged in society as connected with skill development through education and schooling. Artistic and cultural dimensions need to be recognised and played out as part and parcel of all formalised learning.

While the spaces and constructs of our school classrooms have begun in earnest to transform from industrial models of classrooms with static orders of desks and teacher-centred pedagogy, the technological revolution has seen students still attached to a fixed medium as the computer comes to the desk. This has not been the case in the classrooms or learning spaces of the Arts. Gesture and movement, physicality and coordination of a thinking mind and an attuned body, communication interplays, are central to participation and learning in those learning spaces of the Arts.

Educational Futurist, Professor Erica McWilliam, adds to the notion of lifelong learning with the notion of life-wide learning and it is important to acknowledge the pivotal role of the Creative Arts in the intellectual and emotional architecture of who we are and how we live, learn and earn. In her research, Professor McWilliam (2010) explains the transforming of what is termed Generation One Creativity (notions of the individual artist as genius) into Generation Two Creativity. Generation Two maintains that creativity is a capacity that can be taught and learned and the set of skills and dispositions developed through Generation Two can be demonstrated in economically productive ways through dynamic team engagement. Generation Two does not necessarily seek to eliminate the more abstract notions of individual artistry with all its mystique and allure, but it does finally legitimise the Arts to take its place in the fullest range of human endeavour including learning and economic production.

As we await the full draft and final outcome of the National Curriculum for the Arts, ACARA, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, responsible for writing this document, has issued a position paper. The first question posed in terms of the rationale is ‘what is the unique and distinct contribution the Arts play in the education of all young Australians?’ The question unequivocally holds the answer: a unique and distinct contribution.

The nature of this ‘unique and distinct contribution’ is spelt out in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Published in 2008, this document espouses the development of social cohesion, personal identity and responsible global and local citizens. As the Declaration maintains, these concepts are inextricably linked with social and emotional intelligence, with moral and aesthetic dimensions, all attributes that underpin capacities to think flexibly and analytically and function and contribute positively and productively in society. These are the very dispositions and attitudes that are encouraged and defined in the Arts. These are certainly among the attributes that we seek to develop in our graduates of the Creative Arts Faculty.

In this School, the Creative Arts are not designed as a luxury item in the education framework. Creative Arts are about creative capacity building—everybody’s business, the architecture for all learning and actions as social and contributing members in society. While such learning is offered under separate subject offerings, while many of these subjects are placed on an elective list rather than offered as a ‘core’ subject, this Faculty is intent on providing the delights of engaging in performance and artistic endeavours. The Faculty also understands clearly its responsibility to take twenty-first century learners on the exquisite journey into the wider world of a global society steeped in a history and tradition of the Arts as the primary communication and language of our humanness. Faculty members share a common belief that in our western digitised, highly work achievement oriented culture and society, the Arts is even more relevant as the thread of creativity that underpins who we are, what we do, why and how we act.

The Arts is a universal story, one that embraces both triumphs and the errors. We need both to tell us about what it means to be human.


ACARA Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2009). Curriculum Arts. Retrieved July 24, 2010, from

Adams, P. (Presenter) & O’Toole, J. & Strong, M. & Thomas, K. (2010) Late Night Live: A New National Arts Curriculum (Audio Podcast). Retrieved September 1, 2010, from

Davies, Lizzy. (2010, July 24). French Students taught to find success in failure.  Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 01, 2010, from

Gooding Brown, J. (2010, July 14). Teaching art: an aesthetic dog’s breakfast. In On Line opinion. Retrieved July 21, 2010, from

McWilliam, E. & Dawson, S. & Pei-Ling Tan, J. (2010). From Vaporousness to Visibility: What might evidence of creative capacity building actually look like? Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology.

Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. (2008). Retrieved June 16, 2010, from

Thomas, K. (2010, August 9). Lacking in real vision. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from

Read reflective commentary from, Manager of Collections, Ms Lorraine Thornquist, on her article, ‘Creative Arts: Everyone’s business in the twenty-first century’.

Since moving from my role as Director of Creative Arts to Manager of Collections, I am frequently reminded of the interest of the School community in our fine arts collections. To me, this underscores the importance of the arts in our lives even in our working environment we consistently require elements that allow us to reflect on and evoke creativity. These elements, be it works of art, theatre, or music are intrinsic as well as explicit, and not merely backdrops or adornments.

The persistent allocation of the arts to the so-called ‘soft’ options, setting up competition against those disciplines long considered ‘hard’, should be relegated to the past.

As we move through the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ with artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology disruptions to our previously ‘safe’ linear models of living and working, educating our students in and through the Creative Arts continues to be of absolute importance.

Developing the potential of our young women means promoting and fostering versatility, the ability to think beyond self and to appreciate other perspectives. At Girls Grammar, we are in the business of educating, and speaking and acting with wisdom, imagination and integrity. These attributes are at the heart of the School’s intent and our commitment to our students.