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January 16, 2005

Free expression – a misconception

A misconception of a misconception:

"A third misconception is that creativity is to do with free expression. This is partly why there's such concern about creativity in education." Out Of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative, Ken Robinson, Capstone 2001, p.112

Of course Ken is right to argue that creative activity necessarily involves more than just wild and unguided behaviour. Creativity requires a discipline, some kind of order. However, in placing such disciplined creativity in opposition to 'free expression' a powerful connection is missed.

Firstly, we could say that creativity and freedom are dependent upon each other. This follows from considering that any activity that tends towards the stereotypical and away from difference is in no way free, being determined by the stereotype. And if we then consider that creativity always involves such differentiation, we could argue that: to be creative is to differentiate, to differentiate is to be free. Similarly, there is no freedom in a speech that simply applies stereotypes and secondhand opinions.

Secondly, we could argue that all expression requires some form of discipline, order, organisation: a language of expression, or the 'material' of expression. And therefore, all 'free expression' is ordered and disciplined to a varying extent.

From these arguments we can conclude that creativity must always be in some way a free expression, a differentiation that applies a discipline to break out of some stereotypical behaviour.

Going one step further, we could consider if a unified and strongly deterministic discipline, one that is unaltered by its application, is ever capable of producing anything new? If that is the case, then free expression is a special form of expression in which the tools, the material or language of the expression, and the potential of those tools, is somehow extendable and modifiable. Perhaps being modified by the act of expression in which they are applied: a non-linearity in expression.

Now consider again the fear of 'free expression' that Ken talks of. What real fear does it mask? A fear of chaos? Or rather the fear that a cherished discipline will become modified? A fear that a toolset will be developed independently of its stereotypical application?

Is it then the case that this simplistic concept, deployed in the campaign against creativity in education, is a parody-concept designed to lead us away from more sophisticated, powerful and essential concepts of freedom, expression, creativity and intelligence? For readers of Deleuze and Guattari this will be a familiar ploy, they repeatedly identify concepts that are designed to parody complexity, creativity, desire and chaosmosis. The parody is always the same: portraying them as an uninhibited and undifferentiated sublime.