Creative arts a space of fertility for educational research


If college and university educators are to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, we\’ve got to climb out of the old holes and have a look around.\” (Gerber. 2011)

When DeBono was given credit for the concept of lateral thinking, a tool used to create fresh ideas, he hypothesized that most ideas come from vertical or logical thinking.   The answers produced by this type of thinking are likely to be inadequate for new and complex “real world” problems.  Really fresh “new ideas” won’t emerge from logical thinking, quotes Gerber.

He goes on to muse about images of futilely digging holes on a quest for new ideas.  If we can\’t find answers to new problems by using old ideas, he advises, dig in a new place.

“It is not possible to dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” (De Bono. 2008)

New creative solutions to emerging real world problems will not jump out at us from text books, classrooms, libraries, or even the scientific journal articles.  This is because they have been “dug out of the old holes. “

Gerber builds a case for the idea that “…it is easier to go on digging in the same hole than to start all over again in a new place,” and therefore university research and education types continue to dig in places that have proved successful in the past.  “The disinclination to abandon a half-dug hole is partly a reluctance to abandon the investment of effort that has already gone into the hole. It is far easier to go on doing the same thing rather than wonder what else to do.” (De Bono)


Looking for creativity in the academy

Gerber talks further about education, saying that the competitive university environment is designed to ensure that holes that have been dug for students and protégés by their teachers, supervisors, or elders will be further enlarged cohort by cohort.

This is because enlarging the hole that has already been started, offers an opportunity for progress and the promise of rapid advancement within the university environments.

\”Our education and evaluation systems encourage us to jump down into the hole with our teachers (the experts) and dig along side of them. This is how we achieve recognition and advancement, we join the experts.\” (Gerber. 2011)

Cross fertilization between the creative arts and the sciences

“An expert is an expert because he understands the present hole better than anyone else.” (De Bono)

With the advent of appreciative and elicitive inquiry, which are forms of action research, it has been possible for the creative arts to locate the more fertile creative places to dig.  Through vehicles such as Theatre of the Oppressed, (August Boel) and capitalising on methods articulated in the PHD written by Westoboy, (2006) creative arts practitioners can locate fertile locations for research within the terrain of human experience.

The power of a swirl of creativity

Many of the healing and research professions have now synergized with other disciplines such as the social sciences and creative arts practitioners.

Gerber claims, \”New ideas abound, but we will need to look outside of our own professional organizations, our own academic departments, our university culture to see them.\”

We need to broaden our horizons, first by listening more carefully to what our students are talking about and then perhaps by reading an internet newspaper, or create a customized RSS feed for articles about those topics that interest you.

Looking for powerful new models based on systems thinking and embodied knowledge

There was a time when it seemed as though creative arts therapy would go down the same dead ally as the medical model takes most creative approaches to healing and reconstruction.  However there is another avenue that as yet still remains almost untouched in the political terrain of reconstruction and resettlement.

Process theatre, process dance, project based inquiry methods in the Visual Arts and community access technology projects such as The Edge, and youth radio as well as awareness shows by Rich Latimore lead the way in providing community voice.   These initiatives  are predicted to  cause researchers to relocate as well as redefine their research.

Particular teachers such as Rachael Jacobs, Kerry Cochrane  and Kim Dunphy have articulated strategies that inform and enable methodologies devised to \”give voice\” to those who may otherwise remain silently oppressed within our capitalist society.

It has become glaringly obvious that there are far more pertinent and fertile places and spaces where we as academics could be digging.

The time seems to have come for the creative arts to take their place as a serious discipline within the academy.  They may well be the catalyst and the synergizing force that will force the experts to start digging the right holes in the right places in just the right way and just in the nick of time!


  • Cochrane,K. & SimsC. (2009) Pedagogical reasoning, creativity and cooperative learning in the visual art classroom.
  • Dunphy,K. (2003)  Freedom to Move: movement and dance for people with intellectual disabilities. MacLennan + Petty NSW
  • De Bono,E. (1971) The Use of Lateral Thinking. Penguin Books Ltd; New Ed edition.
  • Westoboy,P. (2006) The Sociality of Healing: Engaging Southern Sudanese Refugees Resettling in an Australian Context. University of Qld PHD Thesis.

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