Knowledge, creativity, music education and making special

A strong current within contemporary educational discourse within England is to subjugate the idea of creativity to the power of knowledge. Simply put – you can’t be creative until you know alot and there is talk of a knowledge-based curriculum the fruits of which may in due course be creativity. The creative impulse is held in check until such times as sufficient inherited wisdom has been assimilated. This position rests on closed conceptions of both creativity and knowledge. [1]

However, like knowledge, creativity can, and often is thought of as a multi-varied concept. It can be defined and deployed in a variety of ways.

One way in which to celebrate this fluidity is to link creativity to the act and art of making things, making music, for example – making a perfomance, making a piece of music. ‘Create’ and ‘make’ would seem happy enough bedfellows.

Anthropologist Ellen Dissanayke uses the term ‘making special’ in her book ‘Homo Aestheticus: Where art comes from and why’ arguing that art is central to human evolutionary adaption. The act of making special, a creative act, is a human behaviour that enables participants to grasp and reinforce what is important to their cognitive world. [2]

I wonder what kind of knowledge is being invoked here.

Art educator Richard Hickman develops the idea of making special.

‘There are many who do not consider themeselves to be artists, but exhibit all of the tendencies which artists often display: a passionate desire for creating something which looks good and feels right – something which has particular significance, whether it be a birthday cake, a garden, or a hairstyle. In such activities intuition, expression, skill and a consideration of aesthetic form – all attributes of artistic activity – are considered important. What everyone needs is the opportunity to create something of aesthetic significance, that is something which has meaning for the person who created it. The term which I prefer then is ‘creating aesthetic significance’. ‘ Creating’ because of the word’s association with creativity and inventiveness, concepts which have particular resonance when talking about human development; ‘aesthetic’ because because we are concerned with the senses, while ‘significance’ is associated with meaning and ‘signs’ which are highly expressive and invite attention. I am not aware of any culture in the history of mankind which does not create aesthetic significance.’ [3]

‘Intuition, expression, skill, aesthetic form’ – I wonder what kind of knowledge is being invoked here and how will it interact with knowledge of existing musical practices? It is the creative management of this interaction, which will include the judicious selection of what is placed before pupils, that requires the teacher to exercise great responsibility.

The call then is to give dignity to creativity within the curriculum at all ages and stages and to see it as co-habiting with multi-varied forms of knowing lest the calls for a ‘knowledge-based curriculum’ become a destructive dogma.


[1] For a valuable discussion of closed and open concepts see Goehr, L. (2007) The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An essay in the philosophy of music, Oxford University Press pp. 90 n.

A full overview of the idea of creativity can be found in Pope, R. (2010) Creativity: Theory, History, Practice. Routledge.

[2] Dissanayake, E. (1999) Homo Aestetheticus: Where art comes from and why, University of Washington Press.

[3] Hickman, R. (2005) Why we make art and why it is taught. Intellect Books, pp 103-103.





2 thoughts on “Knowledge, creativity, music education and making special

  1. Chris Philpott

    Nice blog John. I think that the kind of knowledge being invoked by ‘Intuition, expression, skill, aesthetic form’ is a knowledge of music that is centred on musical meaning. Here other types of ‘multi-varied’ knowledge co-exist and are learned in a dialectic rather than hierarchic relationship, but always in the name of creating and making meaning. In such a conception we have nothing to fear from ‘the power of knowledge’ or a ‘knowledge-based curriculum’ which is at ease with creativity and anything but destructive.

  2. Good thoughts. Thanks. Hard work to speak of a ‘knowledge-based curriculum’ in this way at the present time in view of unwillingness in general discourse to see knowledge in the veriagated way that we are proposing. The use of the term knolwedge in the GCSE specifications being one example.

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