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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Creativity Tops Monotony

Finals week is the perfect reminder for many starving students that schoolwork saturates our minds in pools of self-doubt, anger and dread. In these last weeks, our frustrations often coagulate into D-Hall conversations about how much work we have. Many students, including me, participate in this ritual to patch up the symptom of a larger disease: a culture of overworking students. After all, in a competitive private school that isn’t ever going to place a maximum limit on homework, we’re left to our own devices to find time for our own personal enjoyment. For better or for worse, Grinnell College charges us as individuals to strike a school-life balance, all while staring up a mountain of homework.


But how do students temper the rigor of academics? The answer lies in one’s free time. To a group of three Grinnell students I posed the question, “What is your creative outlet and why is it important to your daily life?”


Alex Schmiechen ’17 is a biochemistry major at Grinnell who makes time for right-brain activities after a full day of lab work. She explained that art has been with her for a long time and that her current project is “mainly ceramics. I’m taking ceramics classes but I also do it more for myself.”


When asked why ceramics was important to her daily life, she responded “Ceramics helps me to relax after a long day of homework and it’s meditative. It’s nice to use a part of your brain that isn’t schoolwork related. Most of the day I’m doing biochem stuff, which is mostly analytical and it’s nice to use that right brain side at the end of the day.”


A student who wished to remain anonymous agreed, “If I’m ever lagging in a class, I’ll take out a notebook and start writing down ideas for my story. Writing starts to refresh my mind, and I look forward to when I can finally make time for my book. Then, because I’ve changed my mindset to feeling passionate instead of bored, the class is manageable,” they said.


Alex Turner ’16 chimed into the topic of creativity as an individual who studies languages for personal pleasure. He stressed that creativity isn’t limited to art. “For me, [my creative outlet is] language. I often find myself thinking interchangeably in three languages — English, French and Japanese, sometimes all at once. Each language has its own personality and often I experience sentiments unique to one language. It’s not just a matter of different vocabularies. It’s an entirely new way to experience the world!”


Each student had wonderful things to say about the impact creativity had on their daily outlooks. Allotting time in their day for the sake of creation diversifies their world perspectives, provides a feeling of self-purpose and gives them a quiet refuge from an environment screaming bloody deadlines into their ears.

But is this the best way to strike a work-life balance? Some might say that working more as a solution to being overworked seems to be a troublesome answer. But for many students, this “work” doesn’t feel overbearing. In fact, the creativity puts tools in their belts that can be used to tackle academics.


An analogous way to understand creativity’s role is a laborer using multiple muscle groups to work a physical task. We give ourselves strength and endurance when we spread the burden. Driving ourselves to exhaustion through a mono-work culture of academics is a surefire way to burn out — leaving our academics a pained, one-dimensional drudgery.


To support this idea, I turned the conversation towards free time usage. I asked Schmiechen if she saw her creative expressions as relatively valuable compared to watching Netflix at the end of the day.


Her answer seemed divided. “When I’m watching Netflix I’m hardly using any part of my brain at all, but both [art and Netflix] are good in their own way. The difference, for me, is that ceramics is productive relaxing. When I watch Netflix I sometimes feel guilty, but with ceramics I’m actually producing something.”


I asked Schmiechen to elaborate on the value of Netflix. “Creating art is like breathing. You need to exhale and inhale. You can’t just be creating all the time and you need to take time to be absorbing information.”


Balance was a crucial element for everyone I interviewed. Sometimes our minds will be exhausted and we need to dial down and watch our favorite show on Netflix. Doing the best you can in the moment is what matters. But when we have the energy to be creative, switching off and simply absorbing information is doing a disservice to our potential as human beings. If we only use academics to reach our potential, we run the risk of exhausting that lone medium.

-Ian Stout ’17

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