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Creativity Crisis

Chapter 12

OWNERSHIP

Learning is difficult to define. Following behaviourist models, psychology describes learning not by what we know or feel or think but how we behave: ‘Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior brought about by practice or experience.’1 The definition has the advantage that it is not exclusive to humans who can read and write and think abstractly but all creatures, possibly even plants, as when they are conditioned to grow sideways in search of the sunlight; and certainly mice and rats undergo a kind of learning which is reflected in their behaviour rather than thinking, in that they can be conditioned or trained to respond to certain stimuli; and in any case, it is hard to know what they think.

Among humans, learning seems to indicate a subtler definition, because learning does not demonstrably modify behaviour. If I learn about music, I do not necessarily alter my behaviour but only my sensibility. As a result of learning, I can identify Berlioz or distinguish Dvořák from Brahms; but, unless I brag about it, my behaviour is the same: I still sit in the chair or concert hall and delight in the music. You would not be able to detect a change of behaviour because my improved analytical ratiocination in absorbing the music is not accessible as behaviour. The crude mechanistic paradigms of psychology are especially unrewarding as we approach the imaginative and the creative; because the mouse or rat may exercise no imagination in learning to seek the cheese on the sound of the bell. The changes to behaviour that are supposed to define learning do not contemplate creativity. Psychology is possibly not the ideal discipline in which to investigate imagination.

But still, psychology can shed light on learning. Sticking to the templates of behaviourism, it might make more sense to conceive learning in terms of memory. To learn is to commit to memory. There are different degrees of both learning and memory; and the two phenomena broadly align. To learn superficially is to hold knowledge in short-term memory, whereas to learn deeply is to affect longterm memory. In a tangible way, the definition equating learning and memory seems obvious. If I learn words in Korean, it more or less means that I remember them. If I fail to remember them, I consider that I have not really learned them or not learned them well. It is the reason that in education we so often assess learning by means of memory tests, especially in fields that are rich in facts, where the learner is an absorber of knowledge.

These are cumbersome wooden frameworks for a lively and curious process, because they either have little to do with conditioning or define conditioning to beg the question, making it synonymous with learning. As autonomous students, we learn to a large extent either by perceiving a need to learn or taking a personal imaginative delight in the subject matter; and we often learn by identifying with the discipline or the person who embodies what we want to become, let us say the doctor or the philosopher or the architect or the scientist. We may be conditioned in the process; but the more motivated and self-directed we are, the more we condition ourselves—which somewhat stretches the definition of conditioning. Conditioning seems a very passive expression, as if we are being manipulated by someone who wants to control us. You cannot really do it to yourself: the idea of self- conditioning seems a contradiction in terms. Yet the process, if we abandon the ugly word, is largely what we mean by self-regulated learning, that is, learning at the happiest extreme, which is autonomous and self-directed. We consciously and purposefully take a hand in the learning, which is radically different from the way a mouse is conditioned to look for cheese when a bell rings. In learning, we handle ourselves with growth-consciousness, recognizing our psychological plasticity—the way we can shape or mould ourselves—and our potential to reach out to gain knowledge, competencies and capabilities that we previously lacked.

Consciousness is, if you like, a ghost in the machine. It consists of awareness of what the mind is doing to itself—metacognition—a process of reflexion which is remote from conditioning, as conditioning causes the mind to submit to the terms of regular rewards and punishments. Like all organic and ghostly processes, learning is distorted when conceived along mechanistic lines. It is more helpfully conceived through a cyclical narrative structure that involves imagination, where there is a quest or exploration and an acquisition, an acquisition that providently suggests further exploration, an enlarged and infinite quest and of course further fulfilment in acquisition at each stage. Regrettably, this cyclical narrative structure is coopted by gamification, where the cycle of quest and acquisition of tokens or virtual property is embedded in game design from early days. I think regrettably because gamification reinforces the mechanistic dimensions of acquisition in a routine of rewards and punishments, gains and losses, according to how well one plays. The gains are seldom very meaningful in their own right but only because they represent an advantage or privilege, a higher score that enables an arbitrary form of advancement in the game itself and which is not transferable beyond the game.

Though exploited in clumsy technological ways, the idea that learning involves acquisition is deeply embedded in common speech, both in relation to facts and skills. We readily agree that the student tangibly gains something through study, almost like personal property, the most schematic form of which is the list of learning outcomes. On successful completion of the study, you will be able to solve differential equations, recognize the application of differential equations to physical problems; over here, you will speak rudimentary Korean or recognize the centrality of certain Korean terms to aesthetic intuitions, philosophy and national traditions. Before the study, the student might have had no Korean or only intermediate maths whereas, at the end, the student has a swelling kitty of mathematical methods or words, grammar and cultural insights that can be built upon with study at a higher level.

Within this common perception of knowledge acquisition or skill acquisition lies a powerful cue to the way that learning can be understood as psychologically meaningful and enriching. When I learn a new word, say in a foreign language, I have gained something a little more than the word itself. With the word comes not only an enhanced scheme of connexions but also a reinforcement of my synaptic powers and consequently my very sense of identify. The word becomes mine, not just in the sense of a unit of stock that I can add to my tally but as something that I embrace. I already began to embrace it in my imagination before I even understood it properly. Once I have had the imaginative handle on the foreignness of it, the idea becomes my own. It is mine insofar as I can use it in my own way and at my own choosing, whereupon I cherish it. I enjoy its presence. This new word is a joy to think about. It is mine, even if it simultaneously belongs to millions of people whom I will never meet and millions more who have died or who are yet to be born. For the moments that I relish the thought of it, the word is completely mine because I have learned it and can freely weave it through my thoughts, even if no one ever hears it, as when you learn a word in a dead language. My possession of the word in a living language is not diminished by the millions who also possess it. On the contrary, it becomes even more prestigious in my imagination, because I have been granted a peculiar access to their cultural property. When I hear the word spoken by a native speaker, it excites me that I already have the word: I own it and fondly repeat the word as it is pronounced so perfectly by that native speaker.

To own knowledge is to experience pride in possession, to feel a great connectedness either with other people or bodies of knowledge or areas of sense and feeling that I have within myself. It points to an imaginative covetousness in learning, a perpetually satisfied greed which is happily conjugated with inexhaustible supply and delight. The ownership that it indicates is material to the extent that it consists of tangible elements—like words or formulae or methods, models or images—but also immaterial to the extent that it is about me. Ownership is self-defining in the sense that it adds to your sense of yourself.

This intuition is supported philologically. The verb to own is intimately related to the self. It derives from a Germanic root for possessing (agen) a variant of which remains in circulation in modern German to describe your own (eigen), a morpheme which also yields telling abstract nouns like property (Eigentum) and quality in the sense of property (Eigenschaft). Property also has at its Latin root the expression of the self (proprius), what is yours and yours alone, what is proper to you, what is appropriate to you. The pattern is seen already in Greek, where conceptions of the self underlie two clusters of words that mean ownership, the self as a preposition (αὐτό), as in autonomous (αὐτόνομος), living under one’s own laws, independent, and the self as what is peculiar to oneself (ἴδιος), one’s own (ἰδικός)—pertaining to oneself or what belongs to us, as in our ‘idiomatic’ language—for which there was also a verbal derivative (ἰδιόομαι), to make one’s own or appropriate. Finally, there is another particle used extensively in the ancient language (σφός) meaning theirs, their own, belonging to them. There are beautiful conceptions for our purposes, like determining things with your own judgement or at your own discretion (αὐτογνώμων) or the verb to act on the basis of your own judgement (αὐτογνωμονέω). The Greeks had a strong desire to speak of independence, feeling your own experience (αὐτοπάθεια, or speaking from your own feeling αὐτοπαθής), or being your own person (αὐτοπρόσωπος), that is, donning your own mask. To follow your own counsel or to make your own way in decisions (ἰδιοβουλέω) was respected, to hold your own opinions (ἰδιογνώμων, ἰδιογνωμονέω) or to develop your own ideas (ἰδιολογέω). The roots for owning are thus not only very old but metaphorically enriched, not just with concepts of property, the material that belongs to you, but with an understanding for the privacy and independence of a person’s claim to knowledge, experience and opinion.

Ownership as an abstract noun, however, is harder to find. A substantive describing abstractly the condition of having possession—as opposed to the thing that is possessed—is scarce in Western languages. Apart from technical words (like παγκτησία, full ownership, or πρόκτησις, a title-deed showing previous ownership), the concept is not greatly diffused. In the modern languages of western Europe, the word ownership is difficult to translate; but even in English, ownership is quite rare in major historical epochs. There is no ownership in Shakespeare, for example, either tangible or metaphorical, though Shakespeare was among the earliest to use the verb ‘to own’ to describe a responsibility.2 Lack of the abstract word is no great impediment to expressing concepts of ownership, given that the verb has long existed and analogous terms exist in parallel, like possession. But even possession—which is the nearest romance synonym for ownership— tends to refer to the thing that is possessed rather than the verbal action of holding it. When possession is used in that verbal sense, it is political in nature, as in Boccaccio: ‘suddenly, he and other friends and servants of King Manfred were cast into the gaol of King Charles and after that the possession of the island of Sicily’.3 But normally in Boccaccio, possession means real estate or material that you can sell.4 This pattern is seen in literature right down to the age of Goldoni, where ownership is transactional and bureaucratically defined in a deeds office.5

Witnessing the decadence of inherited wealth and the simultaneous growth of the middle class in the eighteenth century, Goldoni is among the earlier champions of a benign capitalist spirit, recommending savings and prudent management of assets; he frequently condemns uncontrolled spending, especially for the wasteful experience of country holidays. It could be argued that the nature of possession was changing and that property relations were slowly redefined as a consequence of management rather than patrimony. Possession could thus be creatively generated, without necessarily implying that you take it from someone else, as in Boccaccio’s King Charles seizing the land and assets of King Manfred; and this exclusivity of possession, where you own something by virtue of the fact that I do not own it—‘voi possedete et io piango’ (you possess and I cry)6—is the material nastiness of natural capitalism. Up to a point, so is the theory in Marxism: the accumulation of wealth is achieved by not distributing profits according to the labour that generated it. Instead, Goldoni’s implicit ideal is that you live well, sensibly and creatively simply by refraining from waste; so your retention of ownership is implicitly a statement of your virtue.

The way we think of ownership today is more inflected, as befits the greater development of the word in the industrial period. The romance word ‘possession’ is by derivation a highly materialistic term, having no ‘self’ at the centre but rather a power to sit upon, (potere + sedere), the right or ability to occupy. In its origins, it did not contemplate an original integrity between you yourself and some other term. It was just the holding; and as a form of holding, it specifically refers to the power of occupation, almost your right to exclude, arguably an intrinsically arrogant conception that is military and legalistic to the core. In our conception of ownership, on the other hand, we are drawn to what is morally and psychologically proper to you (your own) in some tight relationship with who you are and your potential to lead a creative life.

As applied to learning, the metaphor of ownership is suggestive, because it presents overlap with student-centredness as well as imagination. Students who own their topic, their study, their performance, and who own a sense of where the discipline might take them, are more self-motivated, in possession of an image of themselves. Thus, educational ownership is about the student’s identity, an acquisition of potential, realizing an ability to gather intellectual assets in accord with the self, and to build the self in a way that ideally never diminishes anyone else’s sense of self or moral claims to the same knowledge insofar as knowledge is universal. When knowledge is not universal but proper to the culture and tradition of a minority (like the Australian Aboriginal Dreaming, for example), it ceases to be infinitely transferable; and one cannot own the material in the same way as the original owners can, who have complicated rights to the stock by initiation and ancestral transmission. When we purport to seize their glamour, say by using ancient spiritual motifs in marketed fashion items, we need special permission, else the claim lacks legitimacy. We describe this arrogation of someone else’s cultural property as ‘appropriation’—seizing for yourself what is not really yours to take—which effectively means ‘misappropriation’. You are in effect annexing someone else’s identity; and the act is neither sympathetic nor creative.

In this close relationship with the identity of the student, the student’s creative sense of self, we see the stark difference with the concept of responsibility. Universities throughout the Anglophone world seem united in publishing statements of the responsibilities of the student, often coupled with rights, hence rights and responsibilities of the student. But responsibility is a triggering word with a somewhat odious contractual overtone, suggesting an external burden of obligations placed upon the individual, a quasi legal expectation which is now apparently an imposition, a runaway duty in whose service failure may be punishable. Responsibilities exist in the world aplenty; but when I seek to be creative, I do not want to know about them. I feel in good faith that my endeavours will ultimately be reconciled with the good intentions of others; but right at this moment, the very word ‘responsibilities’ takes on a threatening value, because I might very well be in default of what is expected of me. Learning requires a safe place where responsibilities are not mentioned and ownership can flourish.

Responsibilities are highly contractual, as the origin of the word itself confesses. It is derived from a Latin verb (respondere) which has its key image in pledging (spondere), a pledge which is also at the origin of the English noun spouse—that is, one who has been pledged or been through a betrothal— and the verb to espouse. Western vocabularies were free of the concept until the late baroque; but even when ‘responsibility’ appears in English in the mid seventeenth century, it is bureaucratic and instances are rare until the eighteenth century. French and Italian poetic literatures show no trace of the word ‘responsibility’ until modern times; it is an unfriendly and unpoetic word which spells out transactional terms in an uncreative way that seems too bureaucratically threatening to have an encouraging, much less poetic, dimension. If I assert my responsibilities, I make a claim for my power. If someone else tells me about my responsibilities, unless I can construe the message as a transfer of power, I am being tasked with something onerous, something of weighty consequence which I will possibly experience as oppressive; so I feel (a) that the responsibilities are imposed upon me and (b) that they come with a certain menace. If I do not live up to my responsibilities, I will fear a loss of esteem and people might berate me for disappointing their expectations in me. It is a common instinct to avoid responsibilities and we readily declare that we are not responsible for someone else’s behaviour.7

Why do universities adopt such chilly language when they insist on student responsibilities when they should so clearly be cultivating student ownership? Ownership is in all cases the positive way of describing what a person can embrace and it ideally subsumes responsibility. If I own certain responsibilities, I do not mind them at all; in fact there is room to be proud of them. I feel a more admirable citizen for owning and discharging my responsibilities. As an author, I feel a responsibility in writing these sentences to make sense, to convey something useful and argue an intuition so that it communicates well to the reader; but because I so intimately own the ambition to scribble my thoughts—which entails owning the content and the apparatus and the burden of proof—I do not experience the responsibilities as untoward or confronting. On the contrary, this charge is borne lightly because it is happily congruent with my sense of self. It is not just that the charge pertains to a task that I want to do. It is not just a discourse of desire, as if a circular argument that I like to do the things that I want to do. Rather, I own the task of doing it because it has become something that is about me. It is a moralized sense of belonging that subsequently generates a wish but is not the wish itself. To own something is not merely to experience volition but to understand something as belonging intimately to your view of yourself.

To own is to possess in a special way, to possess with a sense of belonging rather than entitlement. It is an identification of a personal nature that immediately socializes an ambition in an ethical framework. It is no coincidence that ownership marries the self (agen, eigen) with the moral which, as noted, we see in the Latin counterpart of ownership, property, proper (proprius) and our propriety, what is appropriate. If there are barriers to the understanding of ownership, they arise over shyness, a reluctance to embrace a materialistic view of education that aligns knowledge and skills with capital. The website for heutagogy community of practice proudly champions ‘“knowledge sharing” rather than “knowledge hoarding”’,8 as if there is a reactionary taint in accumulation, a kind of shame that a person cultivates the meanness of amassing and sits smugly on the scandal of a stockpile rather than distributing the goods.

As for me, I can totally see the value in hoarding if the practice allows me to share more effectively the material that I have gathered. I do not want to share every piece of knowledge or suggestion in a haphazard way, however nicely synergized with the interests of others. I want to stay with my sources for as long as I can to exhaust their relevance to my thoughts; and if I lack an intimacy with my own learning, I feel uncreative, trapped in common experience, trammelled by social relations which inhibit the peculiarity of my conjecture. My ideas when I read and write and think are often bizarre, full of false connexions that my mind throws up in its preposterous latitude, richly distracted and driven by wayward hopes for a novel insight. It is inappropriate to share my thoughts at the wrong time; and it follows that I want to be the person who decides when the right time is.

Collaboration is now rated among the highest forms of learning. It clearly has many benefits and especially earns its reputation in fields that lend themselves to group work; however, the opposite condition has the opposite virtues. Private study, as it used to be called, puts you in better contact with the intimacy of your thinking but especially the connectedness with your own identity. Theoretically, nothing prevents ownership from being collective; and indeed it may seem anachronistic to emphasize the individual at the implicit demotion of the collective. Teamwork involves a group identity, potentially more powerful than the individual identities that it subtends. We see it particularly in sports, where a side of average but well-coordinated players is stronger than a side of highly skilled but ill-coordinated mavericks. Nor can we say that group work is uncreative, because for every masterpiece in the Louvre or symphony created by an individual genius, there are films created by pools of people with complicated working relations with diffusely distributed ownership. The desire to embrace this collective energy and to cultivate a beautiful cooperative spirit among fellow workers is admirable, as is the principle of authentic learning activities and assessments. Nevertheless, there are many forms of imaginative activity that are naturally suppressed by group work; and just because films are made with formidable layers of management it does not mean that cinematic production represents the height of creative imagination, especially for a person who only thinks imaginatively in tranquil collectedness.

Undoubtedly there is a need for all learners to communicate their learning and not just for the sake of assessment. So even when students confine themselves for days on end while reading a valuable and stimulating book, they profit greatly from passing on their stimulation in the way that we have described in the chapter on ‘Telling’. The excitement of reading a text produces a desire to tell which, however, may be deferred because one needs to keep reading. Finally, there comes a point—maybe well before the end of the book—where you need to tell someone about the contents of the text. So telling is normally the outcome of private study, where a longing to explain what transpired in the thoughts between the reader and the text is satisfied. Rather than a study group, where a student’s interpretations may be challenged and criticized, a listener is all that is needed to create a safe place for extended ownership. The student really only needs to communicate the ownership of things gathered in hermitage. By this gesture, there is an invitation to share the ownership, to relish its magic and pass on the profit taken in it. So long as one is absorbed in private study, one takes on ideas hungrily or warily. To tell someone about your ownership of the subject means that you no longer experience the jealousy of an idea nurtured in guarded isolation. The telling makes you feel generous about ownership, because your ownership is not normally diminished by anyone else’s ownership.

There is no down-side to ownership. Sometimes, perhaps, a scholar or scientist could be suspected of owning a theory too much, developing too much fondness for an idea. A researcher should be disinterested; and the affection for a favourite hypothesis dissuades the scholar from assaying the theory with appropriate challenges; because once there are sufficient grounds for doubt, the theory must be disowned. But that concern only applies to details of a theory. In broad terms, the ownership of the discipline itself—or the resources or facts that a scholar works from—is unimpeachable.

Then what do we own when we achieve ownership in some discipline? It is not the facts themselves nor even the theories; it cannot even be the method, though all three play a part. It is the images, the imaginative life that the discipline licences, the intellectual autonomy that an investigative reading proposes. To become curious is to own one’s wonder, to delve into a set of questions or circumstances or pictures or melodies or exchange relations and to marvel at how they function or fail, how they are glorious or abject and grizzly, how you could be among them yourself. We own the image even if we are an incomplete expositor, a dud scholar, a partial thinker. We own our enthusiasm, our zeal, our ambition, under an image of the person that we think we could be.

If I have not sufficiently separated ownership from responsibility, the distinction emerges in nothing so much as the relation with creativity. Imaginative work is not necessarily furthered by a sense of responsibility— though taking responsibility for work of any kind is necessary and taking responsibility for important themes is noble—because responsibility calls for due care, sympathy, moral uprightness, justification and scrupulosity. Imagination, on the other hand, while happily a partner to all things responsible, may be errant, bizarre, at least in the first instance, irresponsible. In the first instance, I do not want to control my imagination because I want to see what it will come up with. I feel that I can control it later; but if I exercise editorial sanctions in the early stages of any creative undertaking, I will stymie its growth, cut the potential and foreclose on the development of what may have become marvellous. Being responsible with imagination paradoxically means suppressing the urge to be responsible; you must let it run loose, for the mind to have momentary ownership of its caprice.

Students in my experience are seldom encouraged to take ownership of their ideas and imagination. They are told to be academically responsible and to own their responsibilities in a reactive spirit: do not blame others for your failure. The language of responsibilities is shrouded in legalistic liabil-ities, fear of reproach, a paranoiac view of student success. If, on the other hand, we were sincere in wanting our students to take ownership of their ideas and imagination, we would encourage them to suspend the menace and burden of responsibilities that will suppress their growth.

To enter into the richer field of creative growth, students need to cultivate a kind of jealousy with their thoughts, a form of ownership which is reluctant to share everything all at once.9 Their imaginative ownership means taking charge of when they release the expression of their encounters. It could be before an assessment is due, either with friends or family or with a tutor; but it could equally be never, beyond the assessment submission, that is. The discretion either to chat or withhold is a necessary kind of latitude for the student to feel comfortable managing the creative impetus. Forcing students into interactive patterns is therefore not conducive in all cases to a creative trajectory, because it strips the student of ownership when ownership still depends on a discretionary intimacy with the study material. It is not just a case of owning the substance of the essay or whatever but owning the moment of telling that is judged most propitious either for the development of the material or its impact.

When learning happily and sustainably, we own material by the images that creatively spring up alongside it and therefore resonate with ourselves. We learn most creatively when we own decisions about time and we control the degree of interactivity in our learning. We learn most comfortably when we own our place in the world—albeit momentarily—that is, the space that we temporarily occupy. Here too, in a deep chair at home or a squat stool in an informal learning space or a corner in a café, we can experience the intimacy of study, that condition that I think of as ownership. In recent times the various ways that our academic attention can be disposed has multiplied, thanks to digital technology. We barely even use the word classroom but prefer terms like ‘learning space’ in order to think about different modes of students occupying space, not just lined up in ranks of benches facing the front. It is well and good, even if often predicated on the doctrine of interactivity. But new developments are especially intriguing in the digital realm, where there is great variety in the encounter. The term ‘personal learning environment’ has sprung up,10 quite usefully, even if there is no agreed definition. I sense that my own personal learning environment is not very far from the personal library that any scholar has been using in the past, as Montaigne described, with his books encircling him, all set at 5° elevation,11 with the exception that my books are not arrayed in a physical arc around me but rather the bibliographic panopticon exists on the computer. Above all, however, the personal learning environment for me is a rather large clutch of images and melodies and lines that are in my head, accessed randomly or in waves, the music, architecture, art and poetic literature that thrill me and form a large part of my identity.

The term ‘personal learning environment’ is excellent if only because it has ‘personal’ in it. In any creative education, we must always chase the gifts of autonomy, that space of individual safety that produces creative comfort, illusion, indulgence, fantasy, exploration, but equally exposes the learner to doubt, the need for evidence, the challenge to prejudice, jealous negative impulses that also need to be owned. If these almost irreconcilable impulses are cultivated in private, we maximize the chances of internalizing volatile imaginative forces at variance with one another. As fragile and ratty as it is, there is no other route to creative independence.

Once we have established the learner’s creative access to a domain of intimacy, where knowledge may be acquired for the private cultivation of vision, we automatically have a problem in socializing the process. Contemporary education is organized around batches of students and we have a structural urge to bump the individual into dynamic exchange with fellow students. Sometimes this reflex to get students to talk and collaborate works effectively but sometimes it also works at the expense of creativity, which is the ownership of imaginative processes proper to the individual. Ownership depends a great deal on the extent of self-determination. It is hard to own something that you yourself have not fashioned or adapted in your mind; and those items of group-enthusiasm that are enculturated to lodge in your definition of yourself are somewhat kitschy, like the ra-ra of football teams or patriotism, around which the levels of identification are unseasonable and scary. Structurally, the individual preconditions of ownership and the collective culture of group endeavour are hard to reconcile. We seek an artificial overlap between the public and the personal, which is difficult to manage; and more often than not, the chosen solution does not favour creativity.

Finally, ownership is not encouraged by the pre-determined. The same reasons apply. If something has been set up for me to follow in great detail, I am less likely to feel ownership than if I can determine some part of it that I could reasonably direct with whatever wisdom and knowledge I have, often thanks to the influence of my teachers. And so a question of ownership arises over learning outcomes. How much can one actually own these formulations of what you will be able to do? In truth, it depends on the degree of identification that the learning outcome suggests. If the learning outcome is a skill, there is a good chance that it will attract personal identification. For example, if I am studying health sciences and I read in the learning outcomes that by the end of a module, I will know how to give someone an injection, I will be warmly excited at the prospect: I will possess an essential skill that identifies me as a health professional, among which are the marvellous attributes of good form in doing something that fills an already apprehensive patient with dread. But if the learning outcome in any sense approaches the gifts of autonomy—even the knowledge which is the precondition of imaginative or creative work in some field—I sense that I may be embarrassed by the prediction, which outlines a process that I have to follow. If it concerns my headspace, I do not necessarily welcome the intrusion. It may in the long run be very beneficial for me to have known various things that are predicted as my new capabilities as stated in the learning outcomes; but because I have had no role in establishing what they are and they have arisen in no organic relation with my experience, I fear that they will be obscure or redundant, a pompous distraction, mouldy old fussy stuff that is not worthwhile, almost a nuisance. Even if the learning outcomes are beautifully crafted in sympathy with all the likely needs of a poet or a painter or a composer, they do not gain in love by declaring their exigence before I have begun.

Creative projects involve intuition and need to be nurtured in concert with a developing vision, an ability to see things that could not have been foreseen before the experience of trying or committing mistakes and reflecting allows. The process is organic and is difficult to prefigure and construct as learning outcomes. You could imagine a great number of steps that would be useful to know, say, in the process of painting. They would range over the whole of art history, techniques and criticism. But for intercepting the creative trajectory of an art student, these items have to float in the background. You cannot say which will be necessary or tangential or even contrary. It is for the art student to decide. Their use is contingent on the student’s ownership of them. Some that are inspiring to me are disowned by others; and some that I greet with impatience are darling concepts for artists and art lovers whom I also admire. It is not as if we deal in antithetical values. Rather, the degree of ownership in any material on offer varies as much as our several personalities, backgrounds, our impetus for making something new and our hope to get something out of it. The more freedom that a student has in deflecting the incumbency of learning outcomes, the likelier it is that ownership in a creative undertaking will arise; and, given that a similar economy of opportunity guides study in humanities or education, I can only imagine that it is equally true of any scientific discipline that has creativity in it.


1 Sheldon J. Lachman, ‘Learning is a Process: Toward an Improved Definition of Learning’, The Journal of Psychology, vol. 131, issue 5, 1997, pp. 477–480.

2 ‘I wish … that you might ever do nothing but that … and own no other function.’ The winter’s tale 4.4.143.

3 ‘subitamente egli e molti altri amici e servidori del re Manfredi furono per prigioni dati al re Carlo e la possessione dell’isola appresso’, Decameron 2.6.

4 e.g. ‘vendute alcune possessioni le quali avevano’ 4.3; for real estate at 2.9.

5 ‘Sia ringraziato il cielo! Ritornerà la possessione in potere di mio fratello?’ Il prodigo 4.5; ‘Se marito la mia figliuola, vo’ appigionare la casa e la possessione, e non voglio altra villeggiatura,’ Le avventure della villeggiatura 1.5.

6 Petrarch, Canzoniere 226.14.

7 ‘Des froideurs de Titus je serai responsable?’ Racine, Bérénice 3.4.

8 https://heutagogycop.wordpress.com/history-of-heutagogy, sighted December 2016.

9 I argue this case in relation to research graduate studies in The jealousy of ideas: research method in the creative arts, Ellikon, Melbourne 2009 and internationally via WritingPAD, Goldsmiths, University of London, at writing-pad.org/dl123.

10 Sebastian Fiedler and Terje Väljataga, ‘Personal learning environments: concept or technology?’. International journal of virtual and personal learning environments, vol. 2, issue 4, 2011, pp. 1–11; Alfie Kohn, ‘Four reasons to worry about “Personalized learning”’. Psychology today, Feb 24, 2015.

11 ‘La figure en est ronde et n’a de plat que ce qu’il faut à ma table et à mon siege, et vient m’offrant en se courbant, d’une veue, tous mes livres, rengez à cinq degrez tout à l’environ. Elle a trois veues de riche et libre prospect, et seize pas de vuide en diametre. En hyver, j’y suis moins continuellement: car ma maison est juchée sur un tertre, comme dict son nom, et n’a point de piece plus esventée que cette cy; qui me plaist d’estre un peu penible et à l’esquart, tant pour le fruit de l’exercice que pour reculer de moy la presse. C’est là mon siege.’ Essais 3.3.

Creativity Crisis

   by Robert Nelson