The Importance of Creativity.
by Alistar Erickson-Ludwig -- April 13th, 2012
Treevival has been the first truly artistic endeavor I have been involved in at the Nicholas School.
Treevival is the final component of our Conservation Ethics class project. Professor Rebecca Vidra chose to let us, the 7 students in her class, decide on our own final. Being the academic students that we are and determined to make an impact, the initial idea we came up with was a group paper about one issue that motivated us and our collective moral obligation to protect the planet. We thought about publishing our work in a journal, or writing a letter to the President to encourage a focus on conservation. We also considered collecting money for conservation efforts in Durham. And as a last idea, a student suggested that each member of the class dress up like a tree and do an interpretive dance, sit-in, or musical event in a prominent area of campus to draw attention to the imperative cause of conservation and environmental stewardship.
Not to your surprise, we chose to follow a different path but surprisingly this last idea received the most attention. It may have been suggested as a joke, but the conversation that ensued was far from ridiculous. Skilled dancers, singers, and musicians aside, this somewhat wacky idea received a significant amount of support not because it was logical but because it was creative. We wanted our final project to be engaging and we wanted it to be creative. We wanted to do more than passively educate our peers; instead we wanted an interactive and captivating project.
There has been something missing in our academic education. In my opinion the Nicholas School has provided me with a rigorous academic experience in subjects that range from policy to economics, ethics, ecology, and toxicology. I have completed literature reviews, read and synthesized scientific studies, and analyzed and integrated data. There is no doubt; I have been challenged, immensely. But I have not been given the opportunity to be creative and artistic. I have not had to the opportunity to express myself in a nontraditional way, untilTreevival.
The Treevival project was an organic process. With individual free flowing ideas from our separate backgrounds, we had the ambition to literally create an entire tree. We constructed a unified message, a collection of leaves, made of recycled paper grocery bags, tediously cut and coated with wildflower seeds, and all imprinted with “I have a moral obligation to protect the planet”. Three hundred and fifty of these were hand tied to this tree, each of us working together as a group. The entire tree is a handmade process. And alongside this product, my classmates are creating a video that will speak about what moral obligations our classmates have to protect the environment.
Simply put, we cut out paper leaves, attached strings to them and attached them to a tree. But more importantly, we worked collaboratively on an artistic venture, something unique and against the grain. We brought life and movement into the LSRC when we first placed it there. In my time at Duke, this was the first project where we were effectively advancing a topic in science through visual and multimedia arts.
Creativity, to some degree, exists in papers and presentations within classes. Surely the student body is not disinterested in the arts, as I am sure the articles and artistic pieces in the upcoming Eno magazine will showcase Nicholas School students’ artistic expression. But within the academic rigor of my education, artistic and creative assignments have been nearly vacant. Creativity is integral to science and needs to exist within the context of an academic curriculum.
Science is all around us, yet so is art. But people do not take the time to see it. We may focus on the reason for photosynthesis, the chemical process that uses the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide. But we do not focus on the rays of light that filter thought the forest at dusk, as the sun sets. Or take hydropower, power derived from the energy of falling water. Do we ever think about the way the water dances and sweeps through the contours of a river, travels through a ravine and the way it almost remains still before tumultuously crashing into the body of a lake?
Treevival has been the first truly artistic endeavor I have been involved in at the Nicholas School. Perhaps my experiences are not the norm; I hope they are not. Regardless, I want to challenge you- administrators, educators, and students. I want to challenge you to integrate art and creativity into your curriculum and into the sciences as frequently as possible. That is imperative, a moral obligation that we have as environmental educators. Not everyone understands scientific articles or wants to look at a chart. Sometimes they need to be interactive and hands on. It is imperative that we remember that the arts and science are not separate. The arts are, like science, a journey for learning and for growth.