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Are intelligence and creativity mutually exclusive?

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I[dropcap]n the world of academia and higher education, intelligence and creativity are often perceived to be separate entities, with a stereotype that insists that if you are one, you cannot be the other. There is a case to be made about the sometimes-turbulent relationship between the two. STEM based subjects and ‘intelligent’ career paths are seen as more successful options, whereas creativity and ‘creative’ subjects such as arts and humanities are considered less intellectual and less employable.

For example, only six of the twenty-four Russell Group universities offer a Fine Art degree, and offer Fine Art alone. Degrees such as graphic design, illustration, model development and so on are neglected. Within larger universities, arts and humanities departments are often very underfunded. In 2011 a guide produced by the Russell Group labelled A level subjects such as Art and Design, Media studies and Photography “soft” and therefore not suitable for applying for higher education at respected academic universities. And there are, of course, the rumours about “blacklist” subjects that will guarantee instant rejection by some university departments.

Creativity and ‘creative’ subjects such as arts and humanities are considered less intellectual and less employable

As if to confirm this, many universities that do provide arts degrees have very low academic requirements. For example, Fine Art degrees at UAL Central St Martin’s, UWE Bristol and other respected arts courses only require applicants to have basic GCSEs and one or two A level passes. This is because a portfolio of practical work has much higher value, and creative ability is more important than academic ability. But all this evidence does not mean that creativity is devoid of intelligence, or that the two are mutually exclusive skills.

Before choosing to study at Warwick, I completed an art foundation and considered studying for a Fine Art or Illustration degree. The students I worked alongside were some of the most intelligent, hardworking and innovative people I have ever met. In a society that places higher values on grades and UCAS points, talent and innovation that is outside of an academic facility appear to go unnoticed. Maybe there is something to be learnt from the art world, where each application and student is considered on their own individual merit and potential.

In a society in which more and more degree students are struggling to stand out, a little creativity goes a long way

Despite the apparent distaste for the arts within academic circles, creativity is appreciated and valued immensely on a cultural level by people with all levels of knowledge and intelligence. So how do the two overlap? Intelligence is defined as “the ability to acquire and utilize knowledge and skills,” whilst creativity is defined as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” From these definitions, the two might appear to be opposites. However, Falmouth University, rated the UK’s Number One Arts University for the third year running, open their 2016 prospectus with the words: “We believe the most exciting creativity begins at the edge of what is known.” Intelligence can develop creativity, and creativity removes the limits of intelligence and knowledge. One uses pre-existing knowledge to tackle a problem, and another creates something completely new to search for a solution. They both serve a common goal and can and should be used together.

In technology, for example, creativity is hailed. Architecture is respected. Innovative medical discoveries, gifted authors, scientific researchers and product designers are all elevated. More ‘intelligent’ or ‘academic’ fields actually require creativity. Furthermore, in a work environment, looking beyond the standard to create new ideas, being innovative and standing out are things that current employers are looking for. In a society in which more and more degree students are struggling to stand out, a little creativity goes a long way.

Creativity is a powerful and fundamental method of demonstration and communication

For example, the creative sector alone is huge, providing 1 in 11 jobs in the UK and generating £84.1bn a year to the UK economy. This is a substantial contribution that demonstrates the importance of creativity. Creativity outside of an academic capacity needs to be more valued, but it needs to be nurtured and supported inside this capacity too. It’s also important to remember how broad visual creativity is. It’s more than painting. It’s bizarre that many academics and universities look down at art, when so much of their research depends on new ideas and perspectives.

In the past, arts and academia were never separate. Scientists, doctors, philosophers and theorists would all use the creative arts to demonstrate and communicate their ideas. Leonardo Da Vinci, an incredibly talented artist, was famous for his biological and medical research. He illustrated his findings from biological dissections in extremely complex detail. Charles Darwin recorded his research on the Galápagos Islands through intricate drawings of different animal species. If creativity is a powerful and fundamental method of demonstration and communication, maybe universities should consider making it a bigger part of their curriculums, allowing it contribute to their environments.

So why do many high ranking academic universities have a negative opinion of creative subjects? I think it is because society does not value or apply creativity in the way that it should. While I do not think creativity and intelligence are synonymous, it is clear that they are not mutually exclusive, and can and do work together beautifully. Could there be such thing as an “academic art degree”?  More degrees that focus on developing the two side by side are overdue.

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Comments (2)

  • Emma Henderson

    Reminds me of an introductory task I was presented with at uni – to score myself on a scale from 1 (logical) to 5 (creative) where 3 was neither :/
    I feel so sorry for the poor lecturer forced to deliver the farce as he clearly agreed with my asking where people who have both qualities go – using the same Di Vinci example ofcourse.

  • The premise is specious, who can assert that Rubens, Michelangelo, Raphael, Ingres, Leonardo Poussin or Picasso were stupid or average intellects. There are as many ways of learning and engaging in the world as there are ways of knowing and not all knowledge is verbal or numeral.

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