Visiting author undertakes research in human creativity


Leila Pulaski

Anthony Brandt, father of senior Lucian Bennett-Brandt, discussed his book about creativity at this year’s Book Fair Assembly.

As Anthony Brandt and his wife Carol Bennett waited for their four-year-old daughter Sonya (’13) to complete her very first test for the Houston ISD Gifted and Talented program, they nervously gripped a large portfolio of her artwork for reassurance, even though HISD would never see it. A few weeks later, the results came in the mail. Despite nearly perfect scores in almost every category, Sonya received a zero for creativity.

“I was always upset that our daughter’s creativity could be so invisible to the test,” Brandt said. “The test was supposed to be a scientific evaluation, so that got me interested in the science of creativity.”

According to Sonya, the test for creativity had required her to crumple a piece of paper and throw it into the trash. The tester then asked her if she’d like to throw it out any other way, and Sonya said no. This resulted in the zero, causing her narrowly to miss the cutoff for the Gifted and Talented program. This experience sparked Brandt’s curiosity to research and write about creativity in children.

Creativity isn’t a luxury or a gift—it’s part of every human brain and thoroughly integrated into the way we live.

— Anthony Brandt

On Oct. 3, Brandt spoke to the Upper School as this year’s Book Fair Assembly speaker. Upper School librarian Peg Patrick  invited Brandt to speak about his research, which also allowed his son, senior Lucian Bennett-Brandt, to introduce him. Brandt, a Professor of Composition and Theory at Rice University, co-wrote The Runaway Species with neuroscientist David Eagleman. The two spent four to five hours most weekends for four years writing together in order to present a single voice in the book, outlining human creativity and the brain’s ability to innovate. 

“I’d like our book to change the way people think about themselves and look at the world around them,” Brandt said. “Creativity isn’t a luxury or a gift—it’s part of every human brain and thoroughly integrated into the way we live. We are constantly harvesting the fruits of humanity’s refashioning of the world.”

According to Brandt, there are too many variables and unknowns to trust standardized creative tests; a thorough test would be multi-faceted and possibly stretch over weeks. He said that instead of attempting to quantify the abilities of children, we should work to cultivate creativity in each individual.

Brandt’s speech covered the origin of creativity, how it occurs in the brain, and how we come up with new ideas. He used the terms “bending,” “breaking” and “blending” to express how the human brain processes information and provided many examples of this concept in music and visual art.

“I would hope [students] leave with a greater sense of the powers of their own imaginations and how normal and natural it is for human brains to think beyond the world right in front of them,” Brandt said.

Patrick praised Brandt’s engaging speech and visual presentation.

“Dr. Brandt’s talk was fascinating,” Patrick said. “His explanations had such clarity to them, and the visuals just knocked [the presentation] out of the ballpark.”

The Book Fair Assembly previewed the upcoming camp-themed Book Fair, “S’more Fun with Books,” which was held in Flores Hall on Oct. 10-11. This year, Brandt, along with authors Grace Lin and Elise Broach, will be signing copies of their books.

As one of the few all-school events, Book Fair also allows Upper School students to find new books, which can be especially helpful in the midst of the Upper School library’s construction.

“We actually have a culture of readers here, and the Book Fair really enforces that,” Patrick said. “I hope [students] gain a continued enjoyment and love of reading that will last a lifetime.”

Book Fair Chair Marcia Fiman also wishes for students to acquire a further love of reading and be encouraged to read new books recommended by friends or teachers. Brandt possesses a positive outlook regarding the fair.

“Book fairs are farmer’s markets of literary creativity — a place to browse and explore and, of course, support this wonderful school,” he said. “It’s very exciting to see all of the covers at a book fair and to hold so much tangible evidence of human imagination in one’s hands.”