Flowers Are Red, Grasses Are Green: Creativity in Science and Art

By Terry Foxx
March 2011

When there is an economic downturn, often the first things people want to sacrifice in our schools are programs that are not considered the basics, such as art, physical education, and music. Yet these disciplines are life skills that help us to be happier and healthier in our maturity. But are we sacrificing something else? First and foremost, I believe we are eliminating the teaching of creativity--creative ways of thinking, moving, and enjoying life.

We often compartmentalize various disciplines: art is art and science is science, and in our mind they do not intersect. Furthermore, we somehow fail to value art as much as science and are more willing to do away with art. Yet we need both to be truly creative. The fundamental skill of seeing and observing is the basis for both. Both art and science address the question "why?" The difference is that science has procedures to try to prove or disprove a hypothesis, while art interprets what is seen through the eye of the observer. Art answers why a flower is red by its beauty (or perhaps its ugliness) and how it fits its surroundings; science answers why a flower is red by explaining the pigment or its reproductive advantage. In both cases, the creativity that comes from seeing and asking "why" has propelled our world in nearly every field. The artist must examine the flower as meticulously as does the scientist.

In The Zen of Seeing, Fredrick Frank says, "We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes...our looking is perfected every day--but we see less and less." More and more gadgets make our lives more and more cluttered and we forget to actually see, feel, and hear the natural world around us. Our lack of seeing crushes our ability to be creative, well rounded people.

So how do we develop creativity in ourselves and our children? Children need a balance between time for creative exploration and innovation and time for structured, restricted-choice activity. Here are some ways to help creativity: allow risk-taking, reward accomplishments even if they aren't what you had wished for; encourage enjoyment of the process rather than a final reward; explore many ways of doing things rather than one "right" way; avoid activities involving competition and winning. Allow children to follow their curiosity and passion, including outdoor or unstructured play.

Harry Chapin's poignant song "Flowers Are Red" tells the story of a little boy whose creativity is being crushed. One stanza goes

And she said...
Flowers are red, young man
Green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

But the little boy said...
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one.

Sadly, in this story, the little boy becomes convinced that flowers are only red, and leaves are only green.

Every ecologist I have studied with has been a superb artist in some way: I believe this is because a good scientist must also have the creative spirit, whether it is in physics, math, chemistry, or biology.

The other day I went out with a group of children on an Earth Day project. The activity was created by a PE teacher, an art teacher, and PEEC volunteers who presented a few ideas about the natural history and geology of the Pajarito Plateau. Here we combined three important ways of observing: the creativity of play, the creativity of imagination, and the creativity of science. The children had smiles on their faces as they searched the ground for a special treasure. In the process they learned a little about the Pajarito Plateau, the place where they live. Projects like this help produce well rounded, healthy, creative children and adults.

*From March 28 to April 26 the Earth Day art display will be at Mesa Public Library, with an opening on April 7 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Come see the creative spirit at work in both adults and children.

Terry Foxx is an ecologist, creative artist, and vice-president of the Board of Directors of PEEC.


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