Coming up next week, Raleigh will be hosting its annual festival celebrating the arts: Artsplosure. What an exciting weekend for all who love the arts to come out and get inspired.
Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” As a children’s book author, former classroom teacher, and the parent of a creative little girl (who regularly produces such surprisingly imaginative pieces like this “cuckoo clock”), I am convinced that children are some of the most uninhibited and wildly creative people.
Let’s take a look at what children can teach us about how to be more creative in our daily and artistic lives.
For a child, everything is new. Childhood is nothing if not the time in life where our brains are filled with vast amounts of new knowledge and experiences. This is enormously stimulating for young people. Have you ever noticed that many famous artists, musicians, and writers produce their best work early in their careers? Even Einstein was only 26 years old when he proposed his Special Theory of Relativity (immortalized in the formula E = mc2). While one might think experience would increase the success of our artistic and imaginative products, the sad truth is creative output generally declines with age. Before you get too depressed consider the role of new experiences and information for helping you get back to that childlike exuberance for your art. Age does not steal our ingenuity. We do by falling back on worn out ideas. Embrace newness to stimulate your creativity.
Children learn by playing. Whether making up games on the playground, inventing new worlds in the backyard, and disappearing into their imaginations through toys, drawings, and books, children learn best through unstructured play. They discover so much more through hands-on activities and exploration rather than lectures and structured work. The innovative 3M company encourages researchers to take a daily “bootlegging hour,” a time each day to pursue individual interests, take walks, play pinball, and do activities that other companies might view as unproductive. Google has a similar initiative called Innovative Time-Off. Take time to play, work with your hands, daydream, and explore activities that might not at first seem like they’ll further your art. Children do things because they are fun, plain and simple. Find ways to have fun.
Children are less self-critical. My five-year old daughter thinks every drawing she does is a masterpiece. Hey, they are! She is effortlessly productive in her creativity. When I taught 4th and 5th grades, I noticed kids at this age suddenly feel self-conscious about their drawings and writing. Something happens in our brain development around this age that starts cutting on certain censors and inhibitions. But to be artistically productive, we have to find a way around these negative voices in our heads. Don’t let fear of embarrassment stifle your creativity. Don’t quit a project because of self-doubt. Take risks with your art. Be willing to be silly and uninhibited. The world is full of critics. Ignore them.
Children are more intuitive. We live in a world where massive amounts of data and information are available. Logic and fact reign supreme. This can overwhelm our decisions. My daughter however has never met a fairy, but she believes in them completely. Children accept magic as part of the world. They follow their own intuitive rules. Kids operate on the gut-level. When you can get away from artistic decisions based on market research and facts about what the public supposedly wants, you’ll discover your best ideas are inside you. Trust your artistic instincts. You are your own best judge of what is a good idea to pursue.
Children are comfortable with ambiguity. Hand an adult a stick and ask them what it is. They’ll say a stick. Give a stick to a child and they might say it’s a wand, a tent pole, a pirate’s sword, a dragon bone, or a million other creative responses. When Picasso picked up a pair of bicycle handles, he saw a bull’s horns. Paul McCartney dreamed one night about scrambled eggs and created the song “Yesterday.” While uncertainty makes most of us uncomfortable, ambiguity can be a rich source of creativity. Ask open-ended questions like “what if…?” Ponder to your nightly dreams. Look at the world with curiosity. When you can see beyond what something is, you’ll discover the unexpected possibilities in the ordinary.
Children cultivate broad interests. When I ask my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say an artist, a dancer, a teacher, and a scientist. All of them, and often more. As we get older, we tend to cultivate certain narrow interests. We begin to say, “I’m not good at that.” We put our talents and pursuits in smaller and smaller categories. But children are fascinated by a wide range of topics. Dinosaurs. Soccer. Trains. Outer space. Cooking. Painting. Animals. They are interested in lots of things. Kids are also quick to say, “I can do that.” As adults, we shouldn’t limit ourselves. Have a broad-range of interests (especially new interests, remember?) and you’ll have a bigger tool box for creative ideas. And a variety of interests allows for more cross-pollination of ideas across topics.
Whatever our creative pursuits—whether in the arts, our jobs, our hobbies, our lives—we have a lot to learn from children. I hope these six suggestions will help you get back in touch with your inner child, your most imaginative and most wildly creative self.
Come out to Raleigh’s Artsplosure festival next week for some inspiration and fun. I hope you’ll join me over at the Kidsplosure stage on Sunday, May 19 at 1 pm where I’ll be sharing about my books and what has inspired my creative life.