Rising above negativity
ART EDUCATION – THE IMPORTANCE OF NURTURING CREATIVITY IN ALL OF US
Taking on creativity
To be any kind of creative you have to be a fighter. The creative life is not an easy path. Many will check in, but many will fall along the way. Taking it on and sticking to it takes guts and a whole lot of determination. It means you have to be brave enough to leave the ‘hobby’ label behind and dive in boots and all. Some may claim its a ‘calling’ others will say they had no choice in the matter, creativity is a part of who they are.
Taking creativity seriously, is about taking that choice to leap into the creative abyss. A place that you decide to step without any road map or end destination. Taking on this journey has nothing to do with the quality of your work and it definitely has nothing to do with talent. It’s all about grit, and your tenacity to combat the waves of negativity that lay ahead of you on the path of creative expression.
A large part of what defines an artist from those that like to dabble, is their ability to stay focussed on their mission, despite the naysayers along the way. There will be many outsiders that will tell you that you are wasting your time, doing it all wrong, or just don’t understand why you get so worked up about creating. They will never understand you. On the upside, those crazy obsessed characters of creativity eventually turn into models of inspiration, are examples of great drive and are admired for their relentless passion in what they are doing.
How many times have I heard ‘oh I wish I was as passionate about something as much as xxxx?’ So why then do we give these creative folks such a hard time when they are paving their way? Why do others feel the need to degrade the efforts of others? What benefit do they get in doing it. I have to say I am still just as confused by this as I was when I was a child.
Now it just makes me annoyed. What right does anyone have to steal others joy in creating? Why should I apologise for putting all my efforts into my work if I enjoy it?
When I was a child I loved learning and I loved creating. I would spend many extra hours on creating title pages for my school projects. While I received good marks for my ‘creativity’ it was still considered ‘a waste of effort by many’.
I still remember my third grade teacher telling my mother in a parent teacher interview ‘Kristine must learn not to try so hard? Arrrgh, clearly many teachers in the 70s had not read up on their ‘growth mind-set’ modules! I could never work out why it was such a crime to get excited and enthusiastic about a particular subject. Is this tall poppy syndrome indicative of Australian culture or is it a world wide thing? I am still perplexed. So what I learnt at the age of 8 was to semi apologise for my efforts. I took on the ‘try hard’ title. I was never gifted at anything, I just worked really hard at things. Not because I had too, but because I wanted too. It wasn’t about the marks as such, just maximising every opportunity I had. What happened was that others just assumed you were ‘talented’ or ‘smart’ and that was just you. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When you get comments back like ‘she always gets good marks’ it kind of hurts and devalues all the work you put in.
In hindsight I should have cared less about the distractions and sought out those who could offer me growth and encouragement. But as a kid, my circle was small. As much as I would like to think that this negativity was part of a 70s education I am sadly proven wrong by many of the students I teach today.
What I admire about them (and secretly wish I had more of when I was a kid) is their acceptance that the creative arts does not make you the cool kid in school. That by just pursuing it means you are going to get a lot of flack, and you do it anyway.
I guess in my art teaching I am part of the back up team for these creative beings. I am the one that will push you to work harder, make it better, make it bigger, but I am also going to defend you against all those that want to crush your creative soul.
When we are growing up, we look to our teachers for guidance. Even those we don’t like so much have credence. They have weight in the game and help us monitor our success. Sometimes I have to wonder why some teachers feel the need to crush creative souls so often. I don’t know what rewards they reap from this?
Rising above the negativity of our guides is indeed a great challenge. Only some of us are lucky enough to experience the difference of good and bad guidance. The others who persevere, despite the negativity, get top marks in my book. They are well on the way to strengthening their grit.
Negative Nellies are everywhere
So what does this negativity sound like? Here are some examples ….
• Did you copy this from someone else? It’s far too advanced for your age to have done?
(This student spent 2 hours dissecting an art critics interview in order to create a good paragraph in an art essay. They also did this at midnight on a Friday night).
• We can’t allow this sculpture into the show. It has been welded and you couldn’t have done this yourself.
(She did. She welded when she was 10).
• Mmm…I can’t find your sketch pad (the one you draw in every lunch time in the playground) I must have thrown it out with all the other rubbish.
• She doesn’t seem to talk enough with the kids in the class, she just gets on with her work.
• She couldn’t have possibly have done all the work by now. She should do it again.
• Why do you do all your homework at lunch time just to get it out of the way? (She did this so she can pursue her creative passions after school).
• I think you are doing too many creative pursuits, their must be something mentally wrong with you.
Yes, these are real comments. Real and damaging. If they work, then that little voice in your head starts to believe them too. And that is not OK with me.
Think, live, dream with all you have. Be creative and don’t let anyone stop you. When you are six you are full of wonder and a joy for learning. Slowly this joy is beaten out of us. Most of us just give in, few of us fight back.
In Hugh MacLeod’s book ‘Ignore Everybody’ he writes
“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”
Ken Robinson enlightens us with his belief that all of us start with a greater capacity for innovation and advocates that creativity should be as important in education as literacy.
Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s TED TALK on how the system kills creativity here >
Build up your muscle
The practice of being passionate about something takes practice, a lot of practice. Being dedicated to this practice gives you muscle. Muscle you will need if you want to pursue anything passionately.
So many of my students are criticized for doing things, doing stuff, doing the wrong stuff, doing too much stuff. I refer them to the words of writer Elbert Hubbard
‘To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.’
So if you plan on doing a few things you can be guaranteed that others will feel the need to criticize you for it. My advice is never to settle for OK. Be brilliant beyond others expectations.
Basketball player, Michael Jordan said
‘ If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.’
The creative trip is not an easy one. Yes there will be moments of hell. Guaranteed. Just do as Winston Churchill politely stated ‘If you are going through hell, keep going’.
Just keep going. Be persistent, be consistent. Exhaust those negative Nelly naysayers with your enthusiasm and dedication. They will give up because they are just not as tough as you. Let your ambition drive you. Don’t forget to love, live and learn from your creative pursuits.
The challenge will always be to keep your focus and not get distracted by the negativity. With art I like to adopt Elizabeth Gilbert’s take
‘If people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to go make their own f*cking art.’
I think Andy Warhol got it right when he said‘
Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.’
The best resolution to all that negativity is to rise above it. Don’t let it drag you down. Just get on with what you want to do and do it, do lots of it and allow yourself to love doing it.
This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.
Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!
Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist and teacher for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com © Kristine Ballard 2018.