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Imagine the Future of Arts Education

There are no separate mental modules for art and science, both of which are applications of the same human capacity: imagination. Filmmaking is one of many practices that completely integrates art, science and technology. Every time the camera rolls, audio is recorded, images are edited, and finished works are screened, art, science, and technology are fused. Most successful aspiring filmmakers learn in programs like Cinema Art + Science where every crew member is part of the creative team, and theory and practice completely cross-inform.
Now more than ever, it is important to base education on identifying and enhancing the one thing that can always make human beings essential: creativity arising from imagination. There is substantial evidence that young children explore and come to understand reality by using their imaginations in a feedback relationship with their conscious thinking. By enforcing separation of the imagination and rational thinking in early and middle levels of education, especially at high school, we atrophy the most important human power. We then feed those students into higher education that is silo-ed by discipline and focused on product over process. The result is that overall only a tiny proportion of graduates have the level of adaptive and nuanced creativity the world demands, especially in collaborative contexts. Lessening support for arts education is exactly the wrong thing to do. The urgent need is to base all education on the unified creativity that is natural to young children, with focused specialization as the context for targeted application. The exploration and growth of creativity is central to the arts and the reason they must drive 21st century education.

In May, I delivered a keynote lecture at my alma mater, the University of Auckland, on the topic “Human Creativity and the Future of Arts Education,” a natural convergence of my research into imagination and creativity with my experience leading the department. Like all institutions of higher learning, University of Auckland is experiencing social, economic, and political pressure, the latter often in the form of calls to limit support for education in arts and humanities and divert more resources to science and technology.

The value and viability of arts education is being challenged in a world of rapidly advancing digital technologies, social media-based communications, and global competition for employment. But new understandings of human creativity that are supported by the latest neuroscience will move arts to the center of education in a world where computers store and manipulate the facts and robots can deliver any physical skill. The ability to enhance and dynamically deploy creativity in all fields of human endeavor will be what distinguishes excellence from mere competence.

Bruce Sheridan
Professor & Chair
Cinema Art + Science
Columbia College Chicago

Listen to Sheridan discuss the current state of education, Hollywood, and his own work in an interview on Radio New Zealand.