Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update Exclusive

Course challenges participants
to think about creativity in new ways

Surrounded by several students playing acoustic instruments, Michael Gould invites one to step in the middle of the circle.

“Now play like you are walking,” says Gould, associate professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the Residential College. The student shakes the bead-covered gourd in a steady rhythm. “Now play it like you’re falling down,” Gould says, as he throws his arms up in the air. The student follows suit, shaking out an erratic beat.

Course moves to France
for spring semester

For the spring semester, the Creative Process course will move to a historic abbey in France.

The class, which will include 40 students and four faculty members, will reside in Pontlevoy in a 1034 Benedictine abbey recently revived as an educational center.

All of the tools necessary for the course, including computers, music instruments and various supplies, will be taken to France for the one-month course.

The exercise is part of a new multi-disciplinary course called Creative Process, which blends disciplines to explore sound, visual art, motion and words. The class, which in addition to course coordinator Stephen Rush is taught by four two-member instructor teams, allows students at take part in hands-on activities, lectures and optional meditation with the goal of cultivating creativity across academic fields.

The course was submitted by Arts on Earth and proposed in December 2007. The effort was led by Bryan Rogers, dean of the School of Art & Design (A&D), along with Christopher Kendall, dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning (TCAUP); and David Munson, dean of the College of Engineering (CoE). It is funded through the Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching initiative.

Demystifying creativity
Rush says he wants “to put students in an uncomfortable space.”

“Most students come to the class with a notion of specific discipline. Business major. Poli-sci. Etcetera,” he says. “This class looks beyond discipline, and assumes multi-culturality, multi-disciplinarity, complete integration. The classes all zoom through different disciplines quite quickly, and my lectures don’t establish turf, they establish commonalities.”

Luke Frutig, center, plays a beat during an experimental music project. (Photos by Jillian Bogater)

Haley Cureton cuts away pages from a book as she creates a Cabinet of Curiosity.

The course overview says the class seeks to “demystify creativity” so it is seen as “an inherent potential of all humans.” It also recognizes that “creative expression in any field is not an event but a process that can take many different forms and has recognizable breakthrough moments.”

The four-credit course meets for six hours each Friday. A rough outline of the days goes like this: 9-11 a.m. lecture/demonstrations, 11-11:30 a.m. lunch, 11:30 a.m.-noon optional meditation session, noon-1 p.m. a plenary lecture by Rush and 1-3 p.m. play/exploration/expansion time.

Luke Frutig, 22-year-old transfer student, found out about the class during orientation.
“When I saw there were nine different professors in the course, I thought that it could be really, cool,” Frutig says. “I love it. All the teachers are a little bit quirky. It’s inspiring and I come out learning a lot.”

He also appreciates being exposed to many perspectives and approaches to creativity.
“It’s great to see all these brilliant minds at work,” he says.

Learning from failure
Standing in a darkened classroom, Herbert Winful uses cartoon images mixed with math equations in his lecture. He’s explaining electricity before the class embarks on an experiment involving AA batteries and copper wire.

“Be persistent,” he tells the students, as they prepare to explore what is new territory for some of them. “Be prepared to fail. Always ask yourself, ‘How can I do this better?’ because there’s nothing on this Earth that can’t be improved.”

This class exploring motion is taught by Winful, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, CoE, and John Nees, associate research scientist and adjunct associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, CoE.

How do you get an A
in Creative Process?

“Amazingly it’s not that complex,” says course coordinator Stephen Rush, professor of dance and music technology at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Overall grading standards will include “attendance, class participation as exemplified by creative outcomes and personal risk-taking,” according to the course packet.

Other elements include:
• Four mini-projects, worth 10 percent of the final grade;

• Journaling, 20 percent; and

• A final project, 40 percent.

At semester’s end, all eight professors will meet in a group with Rush to discuss student progress and to determine final grades.

Rush emphasizes there is no right way to take this class. Most importantly, he wants students to approach creative thinking in a new way.

“This class is about a way of being, not an end product,” he says.

A slideshow examines various use of light in architecture. Sophia Psarra, associate professor of architecture at TCAUP, and Tszyan Ng, lecturer I in architecture, point out how art and architecture can be used as metaphorical devices. This can be done, for example, through purposeful placement of shadows in a room, or landscaping, they say.

Hours later the class moves to an art studio for the “cabinet of curiosity” project, where students carefully craft containers out of paper and old books to explore the relationship between space and different forms of media.

“It’s about the process, not just the final product,” Ng says. “It allows them to test, learn from failure.”

“They don’t hesitate to experiment,” Psarra says.

Paradigm shift
Mark Kirschenmann wraps aluminum around the front of his electric trumpet, and starts playing. The students listen as Kirschenmann, lecturer II in music, School of Music, Theatre & Dance and lecturer II in Residential College, LSA, breaks into an interpretive jazz piece with Gould following on drums.

The sounds are distorted, experimental. They are exploring musical scores with no traditional notations. While the music may have sounded chaotic, they explain the music’s progression and surprise some students by the structure required to produce music that sounds so untethered.

Elona Van Gent and David Chung, both associate professors of art at the School of Art & Design, are teaching about visual imagery.

Tyler Levasseur, a 22-year-old linguistics student, uses a computer program to animate video of himself to make a modern version of a flip-book. He has painted his sweater purple and his arms green.

While Levasseur described the first day of class as overwhelming, he now looks forward to attending each Friday.

“This class is exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “I was looking for an artistic and creative class, and this has all of it.

“It’s a good balance of lecturing and hands-on stuff. Plus I’m meeting people I wouldn’t get to meet if I was only doing my regular classes.”

Students in the course benefit from the diverse teaching styles and learning opportunities, Rush says.

“The professors offer different perspectives and approaches, while the results are similar. Students are leaping out of their skin taking risks, working hard on projects. Joy and work are not separate paradigms for them.”