The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Encouraging and discouraging creativity

Singapore is a nation that talks of encouraging creativity in its people. There is a view of this small city state that, in the main, its people are not creative. There is fair justification for this view since it is not without foundation. Few Singaporeans stand out enough to be independent creators. Yet, there are some creative ones around. I just don't think they really have been getting the opportunities they needed to grow and prosper.

The government recognizes this situation and is trying to foster creativity - though how it will achieve this, I do not know. One thing it could do is to enable a child like Ainan to grow as he will, for he shows great creative promise: we will see what opportunities they offer him. From my point of view, it is a test case of the new cultural outlook, that creative minds are to be encouraged.

Not all signs, however, are good in this new world. Many old world thinkers remain. I heard a story about a Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (a leading Art university, here) lecturer speaking to his charges. His subject was the matter of what makes a great artist and he was trying to inculcate in them an understanding of how this was to be achieved and what they should set out to do to achieve it. It is quite sickening to consider his words and their repercussions. He said: "A great artist is a great imitator."

Think about that. He was urging his students to copy others in order to become "great". No artist of any merit does this. A true artist has their own viewpoint, style and even method. Their work is unique. This lecturer thought that great art was to be found in becoming like someone else.

If Singapore is serious about becoming a more creative nation, lecturers who hold views like this one should be fired. They have no place in education, at all. There is already a local tendency to copy others. It can be seen in every aspect of life, here. It mustn't be encouraged. It must be expunged. If this nation is to become more creative, then copying must be seen as a negative, socially unacceptable activity. It should be looked down upon - and even laughed at. Were that the new attitude to imitation, then, perhaps, a more creative world would develop here. There is no chance of a more creative culture as long as teachers are encouraging their students to copy. To do so is to discourage creativity.

Quite a few students study art here. Very few become artists. Perhaps the fault lies with what their lecturers are teaching. I rather hope it changes.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and six months, and his gifted brothers, Fintan, three and Tiarnan, seventeen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:39 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the way to foster creativity is to embrace the idea that there is an enormous range of acceptable outcomes for any given project. (Quite the opposite of "imitate", of course). When children (and adults!!) don't feel that there are only one or two "right" ways to do something, they won't waste their otherwise creative energies trying to get something "right".

Only by embracing extremely diverse outcomes is it possible to be creative. I think children naturally start out this way but some (or many, depending on local culture) stifle their own creativity for fear of doing something the "wrong way". If the man you quoted is any indication of local culture, creativity is probably getting crushed early and profoundly as children are encouraged to be more imitative and therefore less original.

I think that a willingness to fail is also mandatory for creativity. Creativity is only possible for those willing to take chances- and taking chances means that whatever you are working on may flop completely or look/sound/taste terrible. If failure is acceptable, creativity is possible. If not, then not.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The points you have raised are interesting and deserve a separate post or two - rather than being answered in this comment which will be overlooked by most.

Best wishes

7:44 AM  

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