Is Cambridge crushing creativity?

Sophie Buck 30 October 2014

Top universities pride themselves on encouraging out-of-the-box thinking. But by focusing on academic work are they, and specifically the more science-focused half of the Oxbridge duo, our very own Cambridge University, overlooking the value of artistic creativity?

Even when choosing which A-Level subjects to study, we’re forced to consider which ones universities will prefer. ‘Soft’ subjects revolving around artistic creation are discouraged, unless they feature strongly in the degree for which a person is applying. Even though these are subjects one could, potentially, teach oneself (which is partly why they’re considered soft), people are discouraged from doing so by academia’s dismissal of them. To academia’s idealistic emotionless, objective analysis, artistic pursuits are the exact opposite. Thus they are seen as fruitless activities that just conflict with academic work rather than enhancing it.

Does Cambridge’s pride in scientific achievement come at the expense of the arts? Unlike at Oxford, Fine Art is not offered and even for students studying the Arts, artistic creation is not explicitly encouraged. Scientists see artists as being able to contribute little to scientific study. Moreover, literary, musical and artistic giants are fetishised to such an extent that it’s daunting for students to create anything themselves because it won’t be perfect. We Cambridge students don’t do anything badly – or, rather, they don’t do anything at which they’re bad.

However, it’s not just about the product: the process of creating can hugely benefit everyone. Taking part in creative activities helps you to see things from different perspective, thus helping you to gain greater understanding of difficult concepts. Moreover, art, music, drama and writing therapies can be incredibly successful in preventing and treating mental illness. They help to relieve stress by allowing people to express themselves, confronting problems, and then reflecting on these. Given the high prevalence of mental illness, specifically depression, in high-pressure environments such as Cambridge, these activities should be encouraged, rather than seen as interfering with academic work, in order to both resolve and prevent stress.

Therefore, to all the creative-shy, it’s time you add a little colour to this grey-scale academic world of numbers and words. Buy yourself a notebook – a cool one that will make you want to write in it – and let your problems sink into the pages; as stresses of the day are transformed into poems and short stories, you work through them and gain something from them. Then, spruce up your room – and, for inspiration, take a trip to Kettle’s Yard to view art in a relaxed and natural setting. Join a college art society, direct a play or take on a creative role on your college’s ball committee… And if you’re particularly pleased with your creative pursuits, even upload them to Cambridge Creatives.

So, though Cambridge prides itself on its scientific core, remember Einstein’s wise words: “the greatest scientists are artists as well”. Creativity is to the mind as exercise is to the body – so get creating!