Many committed alternative education activists, teachers, parents and academics are saddened this week as we learn of the death of a man who inspired many. Ken Robinson certainly inspired me and his TED talk (apparently one of the most watched of all time!)”Do Schools Kill Creativity?’’ was, if not quite instrumental in my families educational path, at least affirmative as we considered a life outside of school.
But this piece isn’t about school or whether it does indeed kill, or undermine our children’s creativity (I at least am pretty convinced that it does – oops there I go!) but maybe a bigger (but not completely unrelated) issue. Are humans actually innately creative and if so, why do we insist on denying such a deep human need?
What does it mean to be CREATIVE?
Until well into my adulthood I believed that creativity covered a specific and narrow sphere of pursuits. I was terrible at Art in school and generally embarrassed by my own efforts. Outcome and performance was, at that time, rewarded and the techniques were too specific to allow for interpretation or variation. I remember enjoying things like colouring or craft as a younger child but again, was generally overcome by the need to stay in the lines or to produce a required (and hopefully admired) product at the end of it. I failed at knitting too, with progress and result being too far away and difficult to visualise for the immediacy of my nature and I recall a particularly messy and tangle filled Home Economics Sewing project – I’m sure my mum (who advised against such a complicated endeavour) does too!
I studied ballet too, for quite some years, and I remember becoming painfully aware of hushed conversations between the ballet mums, about what to do with which daughter as they aged out of ‘ballet for fun’ classes and whether the family would be prepared for the more serious commitment of long term and expensive classes with well known (and higher status) ballet schools. Certainly exams and assessment took the fun out of it and it was well known that girls of a certain body shape would never be a serious proposition. I myself didn’t have the legs for it!
It seemed too, that I didn’t have the dedication for piano once things took a more serious turn. It seems reasonable to most parents, that a financial outlay should equate to an outcome, usually measured in exam results and a level of proficiency but once again, for me, the fun was sucked out of practicing when it was attached to progress or result. And so by mid-adolescence, I’d abandoned all ‘creative’ pursuits.
Children in particular are often described as being one thing or another. Artistic or practical. Creative or logical. We celebrate amazing artwork and congratulate our smalls when they start to draw eyes on the faces of their people. We look for finished creations and can feel frustration at what we perceive to be incomplete masterpieces. And so I was assigned my role. Smart. But not creative. I’m not suggesting that any one person told me this – but I felt it and this was reinforced at almost every opportunity for creative expression.
At what point in our human evolution I wonder, did we start to separate creativity from simply being human? I wonder if was around the same time we marked a line between science and nature?
I’ve observed in my own children, and in others, particularly when they are encouraged to just BE rather than BE SOMETHING, the innate creative expression in almost everything they do. A pre-schooler scooping sand tunnels with a trowel and filling a reservoir with water, to watch it run through the channels they’ve thoughtfully built; a ten year old designing a stylistic sign in Minecraft; an infant, sitting in their high chair and running their fingers through the Bolognese sauce that covers their tray – enjoying the feeling of the food on their hands and the interesting way they can manipulate the shapes as they play. Not for praise at their proficiency, not for affirmation for a project completed – for the sheer JOY of it.
As an adult just coming back into my own creativity, I’ve been reflecting on what had me waiting so long. Sure I can justify my reluctance by talking about how busy I’ve been. Which would be true. But more often I come back to the same, long held belief, that I’m just not creative. It’s definitely true that I don’t have artistic talent – my 6 year old regularly tells me that I’m the worst drawer in the family. I seem to suffer a disconnect between my brain and my hands! But what if we reframed creativity? Instead of marginalising and relegating creativity to the realm of ‘hobby’ and ‘weekend’ or ‘artist’ or ‘creative’, we understood it to be the expression of our unique gifts? What if we understood that we all have unique gifts – and that living deeply IN our gifts is to be human. That to be creative is to breathe.
In this last year in particular, I’ve had many many creative individuals walk directly into my path. And of course when I say that, I mean that these people have been living in their creativity, are confident in their gifts and are determined to operate in full expression of them. Not many of them are painters or musicians. Some are. I’ve never met a human who wasn’t innately creative – I see that now and it’s easy to recognise.
I know a woman who, in the last few weeks has decided, with her three children, to abandon car travel and move through Europe on bicycles. Today I met a mum who recently put together a not-for-profit that serves children by connecting them to drama, dance and music and in doing so, to themselves. I speak almost daily to an inspirational entrepreneur who never ceases looking for innovative ways to serve her community. I have two friends undergoing cancer treatment and they’re both tapping into their creative self to manage this new life that’s been thrust upon them. Life is simply full of creative humans developing creative solutions to life’s challenges and of people who seek to live so fully in their gifts that they just can’t stop the instinctive creativity pouring out of them.
And so I’ve decided to stop making excuses and just let it on out! Sometimes the words pour out of me and it’s a joy to see them spill onto the virtual page. Sometimes I have to work at it and when my flow is interrupted (invariably by children, sometimes by dust – and squirrels…) it can feel frustrating as the old program threatens to take over and I feel demoralised that I won’t finish or that it won’t be any good. But then I remind myself that creativity isn’t about an outcome, but about losing oneself in the process, in the expression. Whatever that looks like and however long it takes. Or whether or not a project is even finished. And the best thing is that no one else can judge my offering because it’s mine. It IS ME.
I resolve to never lose my creative heart now that I’ve found it and if you haven’t yet found yours, I truly hope you start to look for it!