Are apps destroying our future artists?



Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up  PabloPicasso

A sizeable portion of the app ecology is devoted to supporting artistic production.  Among other creative pursuits, there are many apps available for image creation and editing, video production, music composition and creative writing. These apps make creating simpler and cheaper than in the past and social media makes it easier for the creator to find an audience.  In chapter 6 of The App Generation, Gardner and Davis (2013) investigates the impact of apps on creativity and imagination by asking the question “what’s gained and what’s lost by using apps (and other digital media) for the purpose of artistic expression”? (p. 120)

To answer this question, imagination and creativity needs to be measured and this is a difficult thing to do.  Gardner and Davis provide evidence from three studies that have attempted to measure trends in creativity over a period of approximately twenty years.

The Torrance Test of creative Thinking (TTCT)

The most widely used creativity test is the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and empirical evidence suggest that high scores on the test successfully predict subsequent creative careers and accomplishments (p. 127) In a study of Torrance scores of 300 000 Americans over 20 years (1990 – 2010) the research documents a pronounced decline in scores across all areas of the figural test – elaboration, fluency, originality, creative strengths & resistance to premature closure. (p. 127) Overall, the declines were steepest in more recent years, from 1998 – 2008 (p. 128)

Affect in Play Scale

A second study found a more optimistic view of changes in youth creativity.  This research, covering fourteen studies from 1985 – 2008 used the Affect in Play Scale to measure the pretend play of children.  This research found that imagination and comfort both increased significantly over the period of the study suggesting that young children have become more imaginative in their pretend play and have come to derive greater enjoyment from play. (p. 129)

Investigations of Gardner and Davis:

A.  Analysis of short stories and visual art

The author’s own study analysed short stories and visual art pieces produced by middle and high school students between 1990 and 2011.  the conclusion they reached was a growing sophistication in the art produced by young artists over the twenty-year period however, creative writing over the same period became more conventional.  (p. 132)

B.  Findings from interviews with a focus group of teachers and camp directors

The focus group reported that youth today are more comfortable engaging with with existing ideas and re-creating known works than coming up with their own ideas and inventing new material.(p. 138 – 144) However, focus group participants were conversely impressed by new media technologies and their ability to lower the bar for entry into creative pursuits, the increased sophistication of what youth can create in these apps, and the wider variety of creative opportunities now open to young people. (p. 149)

There emerges in Gardner and Davis’ writing a recurring theme of fear of failure and aversion to risk among the youth of today.  Just as this was found in young people’s formation of identity and ability to develop relationships, it was also found to be true of their creative pursuits.  (p. 144)

In attempting to discover what is both lost and gained by using apps for creative expression, the work or a number of scholars was outlined throughout the chapter.  Some key ideas from these works include:

The limiting nature of apps because they are packaged sources of creativity and while many celebrate the remix culture, others bemoan the lack of invention in this media.  The adversaries of apps, outline the obstacles digital media present to creativity because of the limited range of actions and experiences open to users due to programing and software restrictions (p. 141)

Another concern among scholars concerns the disruptive nature of digital media. This they claim may also have implications for limiting deep reflection that is essential to stimulating imagination and creativity.  Added to this is the predilection of digital youth for multi-tasking which reduces ones opportunity for deeper & abstract thinking (p. 146)

A final concern raised was the highly scheduled extra-curricular activities common among affluent youth.  The worry is that the regimented quality of resume building extra curricular activities leaves little room for these young people to exercise their imaginations and scholars have found that participation in highly structured activities undermines creativity (p. 148)

In answer to their question about what is gained and what is lost by using apps for creative purposes, Gardner and Davis conclude firstly, that for app users, the avenues to artistic expression may be many but they’re often tightly bound – the code determines the creation (p. 152).  Secondly, “digital media may have a freeing effect on those young people who already have a disposition to experiment, to imagine, while having a freezing impact on that proportion of youth who would rather follow the line of least resistance.” (p. 153)

On the educational scene in Australia we are constantly hearing about the importance of creativity for this generation of learners.  Statements like “art is the fourth R”, “creativity is an essential literacy” and “the importance of visual literacy in a digital world” are often made at conferences, on blogs and in professional literature.  If what we are hearing about artistic endeavours and creativity being critical skills for people to succeed in the digital era is correct and if we think about this in connection with the possible decline in creative abilities found in The App Generation then this should be a key concern for educationalists. While our educational institutions seem to be headed on a path of performance accountability, we may be failing our students by not investing enough in building imaginative capacity and creativity.


Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Groebi, Munch Scream Alienation Watercolor Felt Tip Pens, Public Domain

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