Book review

Vygotsky and Creativity: A Cultural-historical Approach to Play, Meaning Making, and the Arts. Peter Lang Publishing. First printing edition (April, 2010).

Reviewed by Paige Lunde

Why have the arts all too often been neglected by leaders and scholars in our contemporary society? M. Cathrene Connery, Vera P. John-Steiner, and Ana Marhanovic-Shane have edited a meaningful, passionate and all-embracing book on the mediation between imagination and creativity. Their focus on the ideas of Russian psychologist, L.S. Vygotsky examines connections between past theory and future tools. More importantly, they focus on his framework for defining the association between feeling, imagination, and sign systems.

Art making, role-playing, and dance are the breath of children coming into understanding themselves and the world. And, lucky for us, Vygotsky was compelled to dedicate his life’s work to the psychology of art and how it related to child development. His theories focus on how play and learning awaken a variety of developmental processes that appear when the child is interacting with peers. He explores concepts of thought and speech, further defining connections between the way we receive and relate information in our developmental process.

How do people use art for communication? They communicate through experience. As Georgia O’Keefe said, “The meaning of a word to me is not as exact as the meaning of a color.” Connery seeks to examine how artists develop a visual language, introspectively reviewing her own painting through the lens of Vygotsky. His framework offers a psychological window of how the mind makes and reacts to meaning. Connery delves into that semiotic mediation that uses psychology and physical tools through art making.

Vygotsky asserts that creativity creates cultural meaning through social interactions. Seana Moran explores this process in her chapter entitled Commitment and Creativity: Transforming Experience into Art. She presents a study on writers and the ways they commit themselves to their literature and culture. She interestingly breaks down different genres – questioning the writer’s commitment to their environment. This valuable study highlights how people are not just consumers, but contributors of meaning.

In short, this book creates a picture for the arts throughout child development and takes a rich look at how student engagement enhances student imagination. The chapters speak to the idea that learning is inseparable from the act of creating, and supports committed educational theory and practice - always with the aim of reforming education through the arts.

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