Where is the space for creativity in Icelandic society?

Netla – Online Journal on Education

School of Education, University of Iceland


Guest Editorial 12. December 2009


Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir

Where is the space for creativity in Icelandic society?

In this Guest Editorial, Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir discusses answers to the question Where is the space for creativity in Icelandic society? Currently, Berglind Rós, is an advisor to the Minister of Education and Culture. She has a background in teaching and educational research. This article is based on a talk presented at the conference Innovation and Creativity  in the Hands of the Young, held in Reykjavík on 2.–4. December 2009.

The short answer to this question is that the main place for creativity should be within every mind and it should be nurtured by all of our cultural and educational institutions concurrently.

What then do we need to consider in order to reach this goal of a society full of creative minds?

1. We have to reconsider the concept of creativity in relation to learning and teaching

First of all we must have a broad definition of creativity in education which is not only constituted in the domain of arts. Creativity relates to all learning. I doubt any real learning takes place without creative activity on the part of the learner.

To learn is to create new perspectives on prior learning, knowledge and skills.

Teaching (in schools) on the other hand is not always creative, but creative teaching can enhance learning. Numeracy and literacy (or reading, writing and arithmetic – The three R’s) can be taught in a creative and artistic way or ‘through arts‘ as Anne Bamford (2009) puts it – when art is used as pedagogical tool in other subjects. We need a modern and broad definition of teaching as a professional act. If we want to attract ambitious and creative people to become teachers we have to respect teaching as a empowering and creative career choice.

We have to move away from the old-fashioned understanding of teaching as a way of mediating old and often outdated facts. Stephen Ball (professor at the institute of Education in London) calls this kind of teaching a ‘curriculum of the dead’ (Ball, 1993).

Creativity is not only natural (to everybody) – it is essential for survival in an uncertain world.

2. We have to be aware of the social and cultural aspects of creativity

Some scholars argue that it is what happens at home that makes the most difference in a child’s motivation to learn, especially for what has been called ‘intrinsic motivation’ (Bourdieu, 2000 [1997], 2002). Creativity is then not only about innate abilities in isolation from everything else; rather, it is a matter of knowing how to play the game in the field of creativity. It is also about being culturally and socially literate (Bourdieu, 1993).

This is why we must be aware that some children have been exposed to the ‘right’ cultural and social world and have been exercised at home to expose their abilities, while others do not yet know what they are capable of. The school system must be the place where we help all children to grow to become critical and creative thinkers. This is why we cannot behave, teach or use our resources in exactly the same manner for every child. If we fail to do this, then we run the risk of reinforcing the educational divide between the haves and the have-nots, between the children from the ‘right’ cultural backgrounds and the others. Experience has shown that the most common outcome for children is that the creative gap which is already there when children start school widens throughout the educational lifetime. One of Anne Bamford’s findings is that Special-Education-students and students in remote areas do not gain as much experience in cultural activities as other children. This is something we need to work on to ensure equal opportunities for all children, regardless of their location or state.

3. We have to fight against essentialism and stereotypes when defining the meaning of creativity

Stereotypical definitions can constrain our behavior, ability and aspirations.

Some argue that people either are creative or are not, and that creative people are different from the rest of us. They are passionate about work. They work best alone. They are eccentric in their dress, and fail to feel the pressures of daily schedules. They are arrogant, hostile and have affective disorders (Torr, 2008).

This kind of understanding can create preconceptions of an individual‘s abilities and what the sacred characteristics are of the one who is capable of real creativity or real art. We find it in every field. The sterotypical impression of the ‘real’ scientist, according to Londa Schiebinger’s research, is a male who is bald or with very messy hair (like Albert Einstein), old, wears glasses and labcoat, is nerdy and has appalling social skills (Schiebinger, 1999).

Such identity-related essentialism works against equality in education and culture, and against creativity in society. Thus we must fight against such stereotypes of creativity or other abilities that are or should be highly valued in our society.

4. We have to reconsider our attitudes towards the importance of art education

We have fewer art lessons than the other Nordic countries in our compulsory education system (Eurydice, 2009).

I am especially concerned about the status of performance art education like dance, film making and drama. I am also concerned about our colonized way of thinking as we concentrate on the production of things without giving enough attention to describing, giving critiques, presenting (Bamford, 2009) or simply becoming literate in the world of art. We need to enhance the appeal of art- or vocational tracks in upper-secondary schools.

We need to respond to this by increasing the number of art students in higher education, and when selecting those few students, we need to be aware of the effects of cultural background and the advantage some groups have through their location and upbringing. In order to be able to offer post-graduate studies in art education we firstly need more research-oriented positions in higher education for both art and teaching. We need to create more post-graduate places for professional degrees for practicing artists (2.6% of students is not enough) (Bamford, 2009). Academia should be a space where critical and creative thinking should be nourished in every possible way, and one way to achieve this is through research. I agree with those who believe that the current competitive atmosphere in our educational institutions destroys creative and especially critical thinking (Torr, 2008; Páll Skúlason 2008).

Finally … it is important for us as a nation to consider the fact that we have conducted no recent research on art education which would allow us to reflect upon and estimate the results from Ann Bamford’s evaluative research. That this is not the only gap in the research literature on education in Iceland should be a source of frustration and worry but this is something that can and should be addressed.


Ball, S. (1993). Education, majorism and the ‘curriculum of the dead’. Pedagogy, Culture & Science, 1(2), 195-214.

Bamford, A. (2009). Arts and cultural education in Iceland. Reykjavík: Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Bourdieu, P. (1993). Sociology in question (R. Nice, Trans.). London: Sage.

Bourdieu, P. (2000 [1997]). Pascalian meditation (R. Nice, Trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (2002). Habitus. In J. Hillier & E. Rooksby (Eds.), Habitus: A sense of place (pp. 26-34). Sydney: Ashgate.

Eurydice. (2009). Key data on education in europe 2009. Brussel: European Commission.

Páll Skúlason. (2008). Menning og markaðshyggja. Skírnir, 182 (vor), 540.

Schiebinger, L. (1999). Has feminism changed science? Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Torr, G. (2008). Managing creative people: Lessons in leadership for ideas economy. Chichester: Wiley.

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