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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

Creative U

Keeping yourself sane and refreshed with the arts

By Jonathan Gass
Published: 7:39 pm, 29 January 2012
Vol CXXXII, No. 17 under

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, and writer of philosophical dialogues, is praised for many reasons. He was the first to provide a conceptual framework for abstract thought with his Theory of Forms. He founded The Academy in Athens, regarded as the first institution of higher education in the Western world. However, slightly less laudable may be his questioning of the usefulness of the arts. Although Plato himself wrote myths and his dialogues are considered classics of Western literature, he derided the supposedly imitative qualities of poetry, painting, and sculpture through Socrates. Opposing this point of view, I advocate for the benefits of creativity, as I believe it is an unparalleled virtue, particularly when applied to academic pursuits.

Creativity can be interpreted in many different ways. To some, it may simply mean the ability to slap paint on a canvas and produce a masterpiece worthy of public view. For those of us lacking such a high level of talent it can be considered a trivial thing. However, an increasing number of people would disagree with us and broaden the definition. The ability to think outside the box is truly commendable and completely attainable. Blogger Judith Zausner writes, “It is the purpose of thinking, imagining, and delighting in possibilities.” This statement may seem trite and quixotic, but it’s put into practice every day of our lives. If no one was creative, we would all think similar, mundane, and repetitive thoughts. Worst of all, our minds would become flat and boring. Whether or not that sounds appealing to you, I cannot say, but it would surely make for a colourless world.

Although Plato wrote myths and his dialogues are considered classics of Western literature, he derided the supposedly imitative qualities of poetry, painting, and sculpture…

The need for creativity in our academic lives is exceedingly important. As fellow first-year Amina Mohamed said to me: “When one puts time into creating a unique style of revision, it makes what could be a rather tedious task into an interactive experience.” While statements such as these make perfect sense, most students tend to rely on the good, old-fashioned technique of taking notes, reading them, rewriting them, and condensing them, all in the hopes of passing. While these methods work and are often incorporated into my pre-exam routine, they are not very fun nor creative.

The task of incorporating sufficient creativity into schooling systems is ongoing. A good attempt can be seen in the Waldorf education system, loved and loathed since its creation in 1919 by philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf schools believe any worthwhile education should be interdisciplinary, integrating practical, conceptual, and above all, artistic elements. Having been brought up under the British education system, I had to drop certain subjects — notably art and design technology — starting in year nine (Canadian grade eight). Though such subjects could be continued, often at the expense of vocational ones, I never felt a necessity to continue the arts past middle school. Honestly, I had little reason to complain, partly because I was never very adept at either, but examples like the Waldorf education system make me question if my current study techniques could be more interesting and valuable if I had had a more creative education from start to finish.

Even though the Waldorf schools are sometimes questioned for their dubious curriculum, they emphasize the importance of imagination. It is worth noting, as Albert Einstein once remarked that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress and giving birth to evolution.” This statement remains undeniable, as imagination will forever be an essential part of any education.

I challenge you to be as creative as you can be. How so? Personally, I play the piano, and find it quite stress relieving to play before, after, or in between study sessions. Believe me, it’s amazing how much brighter a terrible day feels after I’ve pounded out some Rachmaninoff. Making your notes more colourful, possibly colour coordinated, and eye-catching can help you to retain the information better. In addition, giving yourself time to get creative through drawing, song-writing or even just listening to eclectic playlists can stimulate your brain.

What is more, employers are increasingly appreciative of creativity in their applicants. Young, “hip” employees are usually the ones with the great ideas that help a company thrive. Now I’m not saying with an extra splash of creativity you will become the next Picasso or Steve Jobs, but maybe — just maybe — your life will be a little less mundane and a little more fun.