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The Beautiful Mind of Philosophical Creativity

First-year students at the Mount are all asked the following question at the heart of a liberal arts education: what does it mean to be a person? In his new course, The Philosophy of Creativity, Mike Miller, Ph.D., challenged his first-year students in Fall 2019 to explore this question in a different way by asking, “What does it mean to be a creative person?”

mike-miller-06.jpgAs a philosopher, Miller, who has been teaching at the Mount for 18 years, understands human nature through a blending of abstract metaphysics and practical experience. This is why he designed a philosophy course with real-world applications, created to push his students to explore the mystery of humanity through an appreciation of their own creative work.  “I see myself as a creative connection to philosophy,” he said.   

Miller wants students to recognize that all humans have a spiritual side, and are more than just a body.  As humans, we all interact at many levels, and creativity is embedded in everyone.  To enhance the computer expertise of students in the digital age, Miller used professional training videos from LinkedIn Learning to help students develop their creative skills.  The students were introduced to several applications from Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite, including Illustrator, Lightroom and Photoshop. No one walked into his class claiming to be a creative person, but the course helped them recognize their own potential and understand that creativity is a defining human quality. 

thumbnail_model.jpgLong known as a fantastic teacher, Dr. Miller is also an accomplished photographer, who is able to create vivid memories from a single snap of the camera.  But, alongside his students, he wanted to learn more about his own creative spirit.  To prepare to teach the course, he hired a tutor over the summer to help him sharpen his skills in computer illustration and photo editing.  He recalls very exciting meetings with his tutor at Dunkin' Donuts, where he enjoyed relearning what it means to be a student by having his own homework to complete!          

Miller had several goals for his students, including that they come to understand themselves as active and creative students, and not just passive participants in a classroom. He also wanted them to be open to talking about their artistic challenges and even welcome their failures, since Miller recognizes that fear of failure often paralyzes students from getting the most out of their classes.

thumbnail_tree-sketch.jpgPhilosophy classes are often criticized for being abstract and not connected to real-life issues, but, by investigating their humanity through hands-on experience, Miller’s students learned more about themselves.  “Since the first class, Dr. Miller pushed us to do the very best with all of our assignments," said Timothy Breson, C’23. "I considered it to be motivating, and by the time we got to the projects for each one of Adobe's applications, it really felt like I had gone leaps and bounds from where I was before.”  Tyler Jackson, C’23, agreed, stating, “The writing assignments and discussion topics prompted us to think about what it meant to be creative.  Unlike most philosophy classes, we even learned practical skills to exercise our creativity.”

Continuing his practice of pedagogical innovation, Miller has provided a unique Mount experience to help students explore their human nature and lay the foundation for a creative career.