INTERVIEWS 1: Andrew Barnum
Head of Faculty, Creative Industry, Open Colleges
Andrew Barnum has more than 25 years of experience as a designer, educator and artist. Over the course of his extensive career, he has specialized in the areas of music, painting and poetics. He is well known for being passionately dedicated to social-connection, content creation and his passion for constructive adaptation to 21 century conditions.
Looking back at the cultural landscape of Australia in the 80s and 90s, Andrew remembers a time when the Arts were more one dimensional; when Arts followed a more predictable pattern.
"We've now moved from linear learning to work outcomes, to a much more uncertain, non-linear set of expectations," explains Andrew. "The key for educators and future practitioners is learning to adapt to, and flourish in, this new context. Learning that you need to be continuously growing your abilities and skills so you can jump-into roles, projects, collaborations and contribute successfully."
One of this educator's missions is to develop students through an expressive and productive conversation that acknowledges the value of a creative, cultural economy.
He says, that as an artist today, "...part of your currency is constantly challenging and discovering the learning that's required to maintain a livelihood."
Was this always the case? A generation ago, was the Art scene different?
"The previous 'age of print' had fixed pathways based on industry convention and production," explains Andrew. "In the 'post-typographic or Creative Age' that we are now experiencing, we are all re-inventing how we build, consume and distribute content 'live.'"
How we deliver a product, be it an artistic product or not, is one of the major things that has shifted, says Andrew. "We are now in a streaming, constant flow of media production and immersion that requires a different learning approach that is evolving as we speak. The sites of production don't close at sundown. The factories (us) are perpetually open and responding to inputs." Time and content has sped up.
Educators towards the year 2020 have lots to consider. Studies have shown that creative thoughts can often arrive at less predictable times than logical thoughts. Does adult "class time" need to be more responsive to moments when students may get a creative urge?
Should we be able to "down tools" when we get an idea, to seize on it? Andrew thinks that this does need to be considered. "The 'idea' moment is a product of our consistent process," he explains.
"The sparks are squeezed out through the process of immersion with the problem at hand, and with your most trusted colleagues. It's a searching process that is hard-wired into your being through your experience," Andrew says.
"The hatching of ideas is connected to this reality. Ideas come through contact and interaction; ideas are less tested in isolation. The class of today should be creating a 'creative circle' that challenges and tests ideas. (This should be) an iterative process-space with clear signposts towards problem-solving," the educator says.
Often, people who teach highly creative students in creative disciplines find that these students learn differently. Anecdotally, and as highlighted in various studies, some educators say that creative people are more highly strung, reactionary and sensitive. But is this always the case?
Andrew mentions that he has met and taught many sensitive artists and students in his lengthy career. "The life of the professional 'creative' is a complete vocation," he says, "not a pastime or a by the hour contract where you step in and out of the process loop."
He says, "It demands complete immersive in the coursing flow of projects and outcomes. It needs by definition to remain empathetic, reactionary and sensitive. You need your radar tuned to the issues within the problem so you effectively transform the problem at hand in to re-defined action and outcome. That's really what creativity is about."
Often when thinking about their students' creative minds, educators look back to what they were drawn to as young children. Does Andrew remember himself to have been a creative child?
He says, yes: "My talents seemed to manifest themselves in visuals and music," he explains.
"And this helps to explain creativity. It's not a personality trait. Creativity is all about identifying evidence of a person's passion and ability to tackle and express their ideas, whether it be visual, musical, science, fashion etc. Your first true collaborators are your parents as they identify what you're naturally 'drawn to.' Having parents that are open to 'seeing you as you truly are' is your first step to a creative future."
How essential then, is it for children to have creative parents in order to thrive? Is it essential to have parents who understand the importance of creative expression?
"You don't necessarily need 'creative' parents," Andrew explains, "...you just need parents who are switched on, looking for evidence of the child's truest inclinations and confirming them through teachers and trusted friends."
So, how has the creative's position in the world shifted and changed?
"Creativity has gone through a re-definition in recent years. In a world where ideas and innovation have become a key currency for individuals and organizations, understanding and harnessing creativity and creative people is a 'must-have.' We saw the rise and passing of the information age and the knowledge economy. We are now in the Creative Age where ideas rule!"
Many educators lament the fact that all over the world, standardized testing has become more and more prominent. There are claims that children today are more stressed out and more over scheduled than ever before.
Does this affect our ability to be creative? Andrew thinks that this could be something to consider.
"Standardized testing of literacy and numeracy is a basic benchmark," he says. "It should be seen has a part of measuring a population's place in standard's measuring. More complex, qualitative methods could effective 'de-stress' students if they know there more than one measure of their ability. A broadened approach should deliver a broader view of ability."
When asked to name the main creative tools he makes use of in everyday life, Andrew came up with an understandably eclectic list.
"Firstly," he explains, I would say a pen or pencil, as I write in a
personal notebook as habit every day."
"Secondly, my digital camera. I use either an iPhone or a DSLR. Thirdly, I would say my Google Chrome browser. I use this for email, social media, news sites, blogs, projects, research and shopping."
Lastly, I use the Adobe Creative Suite. This includes the programs InDesign, Illustrator Photoshop and all the myriad tools from Creative Cloud."
When asked to name a major creative influence, Andrew Barnum mentions Poetics in Song.
"In art," he explains, "there are only three pillars that hold up all the disciplines of the creative arts: painting, music and poetry. My influence mentioned contains two of them simultaneously."
So, is creativity under threat?
Some educators are saying that "kids today" are often stumped by a creative task, as they are looking for the "right" answer, which doesn't exist. In Andrew's opinion, is Generation Z missing out on some of the things that gens Y, X and the Boomers got as kids? Andrew does not think that this is the case.
"The current generation gap has been seriously underestimated," he says. "This latest generational divide is like nothing we've ever experienced before."
"Kids today, are operating in a completely different context than the previous two generations did. Their habits and impulses have been shaped by new media communication technologies, the internet's 'dark everything', and the behaviors that have followed. Gen Y and Gen "i" are running as fast as they can to cope with the changes they've been born into as digital natives."
"They learn 'live', there is little or no separation between learning and living. They are also 'mobile-connected' at all times, managing numerous interactions, transactions, emotions, successes and failures with channels of people and platforms. Life and learning is more interconnected than previous generations. They are ahead of the mainstream curve, impatient, dissatisfied and distracted by way too much stimulus and their own random passions and affections. 'Missing out' is a far too sentimental approach to an age where literally everything has changed through a technologically driven age of creative possibility," Andrew says.
"For some, the new generations' experience appears like a 'parallel universe' that is hopefully destined to dry up and blow away. It won't. The youth is hell-bent on a subtle re-invention of the world and its problems through interactivity. Expressions like 'all good' and whatever' are a type of armour to help them remain productive and engaged within the headwinds of an age of persistent change."