The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

visionI was drawn to reading this text due to personal interest in the creative process through teaching creative arts subjects, but also wanting a deeper understanding of the word ‘creative’ which is prominent in the Newlands College vision. Twyla Tharp is someone I didn’t know by name, but I was already familiar with some of her work.

My general position on creativity in the classroom was that explicitly teaching creativity is a myth. I’ve joked about this with colleagues as we’ve laughed about the idea of framing up a lesson with:

  • C: Creativity
  • R: To learn how to be creative
  • O: You will have been creative
  • P: 1. Creative starter; 2. What is creativity? 3. Creative exercise; 4. Creative reflection

I have argued that creativity comes through student voice, agency and opportunities. Some of these opportunities to go outside the box are explicit, but if the classroom is designed in such a way that students have the opportunity of using their voice, then there is the opportunity for them to think for them to express creativity. But now, Tharp has cartainly challenged my perception on what it means to learn creativity.

254799Her thesis is that “In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative” (9). The book is essentially about how to prepare and create opportunities for creation from the perspective of an artist who has mastered their craft. She argues their is a process that generates creativity and anyone can learn it. In order to have this perspective one must therefore view creativity are the result of hard work, not some “transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration” (7). Therefore learning creativity is about adopting habits and a creative mindset (there are certainly growth mindset overlaps here).

A few points of interest:

  • “Get busy copying” (66). A challenge to my perception of creativity. Something I could think about reframing when giving opportunities for media students to come up with film ideas for their productions. “Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill” (66).
  • Generating ideas required four steps. Tharp argues some people are good at some of these but never all four. Holding awareness of your strengths and adopting strategies to address limitations is key to ensuring your ideas matter.
    • Generate – create, from memory or experience
    • Retain – hold on to it, don’t wake up without the idea
    • Inspect – study it, examine, infer
    • Transform – alter it in some way to suit your higher purposes
  • “Practice makes perfect – Not true. Perfect practice makes perfect” (165). Practice to maintain and protect your skills as you do to develop them. “Art is a vast democracy of habit” (166). 0968aa60b060f4d0da0400d390d0cb18

I believe overall that my views on creativity and education have shifted from this book. I have certainly begun to see the creative process as a habit, as something that can be taught. Explicit teaching appears to be the key and talking about each aspect of the process, making it clear how to scratch for ideas, deal with ruts and stay in grooves will enhance creativity in my classroom.

What about where creativity sits as a core value for the school? I’m left thinking about how these ideas sit within other subjects outside the arts. Is creativity viewed as a habit that can be learnt in science? How do we make ‘creative’ a word that doesn’t just appear in the vision, but a essential part of the fabric of the school?


Tharp, Twyla (2003) The Creative Habit. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.

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