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Concept Development

Creative and imaginative people are rare. Fortunately, the world really doesn't need a lot of that type of person. What it mostly needs is people who are reliable and just plain get the job done. Creative people tend to be daydreamers, they don't pay attention to the important stuff, like showing up on time, or getting the assignment correct. But the handful of creative people in the world drive it. And that's why one of the most confusing, and important, classes that I taught at The Art Institute of Phoenix was *Concept Development*.

Concept Development was a beginning class. Like all of the 100-level classes, there were a lot of people in it. But unlike most other colleges, AIPX believed in persistence, not attrition. That meant that the school was looking to encourage, not discourage, students. Attrition just means cutting the numbers down by failing students, and getting them out of the school. Persistence means doing everything that a school can do to encourage success in its students. If you've ever wondered why AIPX is so expensive, and produces so many good people who get creative jobs, that's why.

No, you can't teach creativity. But you can encourage it. And at the very least you can not discourage it. For my students who had been wildly creative all of their lives, this class was pure heaven. For the others (yes, there were a few) it was simply a source of confusion, and embarrassment. The people in the front office never understood it, and neither did a lot of the parents. After a few semesters it quietly went away.

The original text for the class was called *Block Busters*. You know, different ways to overcome creative blocks (the most common one is called *Writer's Block*). That book, along with a good group of creative people in each class, made this an amazing class to see.

I made the class as free-form as I could. None of the projects were graded. The grade came entirely from some weekly papers written, and some short written tests. It was, after all, a college class, and it needed grades. But what it produced was much more important, students who were ready to move on to create the impressive portfolio pieces that would get them jobs in the creative field.

Creative people shone like stars in that class. The projects included making things out of *nothing at all*, and re-creating the world the way you wanted it to be. I mostly tried to stay out of way. Once you combine an interesting project (which all came from the workbook) with creative people, all you have to do is stand back. Since I was teaching commercial art, I always included some assignment limitations. My favorite projects were the tree houses.

The tree houses were, technically, the midterm. Students were given the assignment to make a tree-house and bring it to class. They were not required to present it, but everyone did. I sat in the back of the class and just watched. I didn't grade these projects, but I carried a small stuffed bear which I threatened to throw if the project, or the presentation, wasn't any good. No, I never threw the bear.

The tree house assignment only had one limitation, it had to have a swing. Otherwise, it could be made out of anything. Believe me, I saw some awesome projects! One was made entirely out of paper, one was *Barbie's Dream Tree House*. But the one I remember the most is the one with the most creative swing.

This student, whom I am sure went on to do great things, seemed a typical creative person. It was a great treehouse, and she even played some music from the 1940s. And when she had finished her presentation, I just sat there, amazed that she had forgotten the swing. But she hadn't. I can still see the group turning around to look at what an idiot I was. I had to go out into the hallway a little after that one.