Understanding Creativity
Piirto, J.
ISBN: 0910707588
Great Potential Press

BOOK REVIEW (Davidson Institute) - This review explores the different sections of Understanding Creativity, giving the reader a glimpse of this unique adventure into the world of creative individuals, both past and present.

Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

This book is a unique adventure into the world of creative individuals, both past and present. The reader is initiated into the realm of creativity by a rich, integrative history in preparation for a journey focused on understanding and fostering the development of that elusive construct - creativity. The author provides a map for this journey by arranging the book into four sections: Definitions and Processes of Creativity; How to Enhance Creativity; Personality and Intellectual Characteristics of Creative People in Various Domains; and Creativity Assessment and Training.

Formerly titled Understanding Those Who Create, significant revisions are the driving force behind this updated version of what has become a classic in the field of creativity. Revisions and additions include a detailed explanation of the Piirto Pyramid of Talent Development, as well as information about various domains of creative endeavors, organized in the context of the "Piiramid." Piirto's scholarly work and the development of her Pyramid of Talent Development exhibit her remarkable ability to synthesize studies from various fields to create something new, or at least something that may move the field forward in terms of gaining a better understanding of creativity. This includes how to go about fostering strengths and moderating weaknesses associated with the creative process, particularly for young people.

In Part I: Definitions and Processes of Creativity, Piirto identifies what she has labeled the "Seven Is" of the creative process: inspiration, imagery, imagination, intuition, insight, incubation and improvisation accompanied by a sense of playfulness. Her command of language and broad knowledge base provide an explicit understanding of these different, yet related, aspects of the creative process. The result is an education for parents and teachers on working with children to enhance their creative prowess.

Another key feature of this text is the incorporation of childhood accounts of creative people, the majority of whom can be said to have dealt with significant obstacles in the courses of their lives. For example, a section that includes responses from 25 writers reveals that they all had strong reactions to their schooling (either positive or negative) and had praise for those who encouraged them along the way (p. 24). An informative chapter on predictive behaviors seen in talented young writers is also quite illuminating. The core attitudes involved in the creative process - namely naivete, self-discipline, risk-taking and group trust - are presented and incorporated into descriptions of creativity across domains.

Recognizing that the lives of people are their creative products is further proof of the open-mindedness and broad utility of this text. As highlighted in Part II: How to Enhance Creativity, Piirto notes that a common thread throughout most, if not all, of the work on creativity, is the notion that motivation is the key factor. Creativity cannot occur without it. The Piirto Pyramid of Talent Development (p. 137) incorporates this notion into a model that builds upon genetics and places great weight on other interconnected factors, such as personality (the emotional aspect of talent development), minimum intellectual competence (the cognitive aspect of talent development), and specific talent in a domain. These aspects build upon one another in a pyramid that culminates with a specific talent becoming either a calling or a thorn that must be addressed. Other mitigating factors are labeled "suns" in this model and comprise the environmental aspect of talent development: home, school, community and culture, gender, and chance. Many of the aspects assumed in this model can be encouraged, developed, or taught, as reinforced by the strong body of research and other anecdotal information the author provides to demonstrate this assertion. This thoughtful and comprehensive model is worth contemplating for its theoretical as well as its practical merits.

Part III: Personality and Intellectual Characteristics of Creative People in Various Domains, centers on the description and application of this model in the context of several chapters focusing on visual artists and architects, writers, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, entrepreneurs, musicians, conductors, composers, actors, dancers and athletes.

In Part IV: Creativity Assessment and Training, the pitfalls of creativity assessment and training are thoroughly discussed, as are ways for parents and teachers to encourage and enhance creativity across domains. Piirto provides several pages of creativity training programs in addition to specific scenarios and suggestions. A list of 13 suggestions for enhancing creativity in children is also provided. It highlights a number of key factors, including the importance of such activities as practice. This information is provided in the context of the 2002 No Child Left Behind legislation, which may be broadly interpreted as a limiting factor in encouraging creativity among students as well as educators. Piirto sets an example for moving forward despite this.

It is all too infrequently that readers are treated to a work that represents itself as honestly as does this text. The author embraces the reader with an invitation to explore further both within and outside of this volume. I left this book wanting to know more and was provided with at least some signposts from which to choose, as Piirto cites numerous authors and works of note and provides a compilation of theorists and focus questions at the close of this work. This book is a valuable addition to the field of education and holds great promise for those interested in fostering the optimal development of young people.

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