Sometimes a student appears in Ross McClain’s graphic design class, and he can’t help but ask:
Where have you been?
Their answer: majoring in business, communication studies, politics and international affairs or another discipline outside the Department of Art. To these students, focusing on art didn’t seem practical.
“They are amazing, just incredible students,” said McClain. “They have the spirit, the grit, the curiosity that makes a Furman student who they are.” But somewhere around middle school, they were “completely talked out of art” and as a result, the notion that they’re creative, he said.
Put another way – Our idea of a “creative person” needs an update.
The artist in Times Square drawing realistic likenesses for $5? It’s impressive from a technical standpoint. But it’s neither the norm nor the future, according to McClain, chair of Furman’s art department.
So what is, exactly?
The rewards of creativity
In his Cothran Lecture Series talk, McClain identified 10 laws or characteristics – such as empathy, vulnerability and embracing failure – that he believes can help reveal and develop creativity in everyone, starting with college students.
Those points are central to an article he co-authored with Charles Davis, a Baylor accounting professor and Furman’s first gentleman, and Anthony Herrera, executive director of Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The piece has been named the winner of Institute of Management Accountants’ Lybrand Gold Medal for the best article of the year published in Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly. The article, “Developing Creative Accountants,” details the 10 characteristics of creativity and how to develop them, no matter your vocation. The article appeared in the April 2021 issue of the IMA’s peer-reviewed journal, Strategic Finance.
“As we have all seen over the past year, people have had to be more creative than ever in their approach to their work. Surveys of business leaders reveal that creativity increases in employee productivity and happiness, fosters innovation and leads to improved corporate financial performance,” said Davis, who is also an adjunct professor at Furman. “This article helps accounting and finance professionals, whom most people don’t think of as creative types, understand 10 characteristics of creativity and how those characteristics can be developed to improve job performance.”
According to IMA, the awards “recognize individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the profession through articles published in Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly from May 2020 through April 2021.”
It’s fitting that such thinking would come out of Furman.
“The paper is a great example of cross-disciplinary collaboration – art, accounting, innovation and entrepreneurship – that is the foundation of a liberal arts and sciences education,” said Davis.
‘Your whole self’
Part of revisiting the idea of creativity means Furman art professors are reflecting on what it is that students want.
“It’s time for us to put our egos aside and acknowledge the fact students are not coming to the university to be like us, and they’re not coming here to draw better or study art primarily,” said McClain. “They’re coming here to have all of Furman, the prestige, the one-on-one collaborations, to study away – The Furman Advantage.”
He pointed to one example at Furman’s Department of Art: Art students don’t have to take three drawing classes. They take one. It allows them to double major in something else. If they’d like to go further in art professionally, the department has various ways to propel them, whether through additional studio and art history classes or a Master of Arts in Strategic Design at Furman.
And that brings him to one of the 10 characteristics, creation – simply making something.
People are reluctant to dig a ditch, said McClain. But it’s an important starting point.
“Just getting your hands into that process allows you to tap into all those other laws. Things are going to break,” he said. “But you’ll find by doing that, it’s going to improve the things you want to pursue outside college, it’s going to support that part of your brain. It will allow you to be more optimal, you’re using your whole self.”