When did you stop being creative?


Teaching creativity

When talking about learning to ‘think creatively’ you can bet that the art teacher will drop Picasso’s quote…

‘‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Claude and Palamo Painting (Picasso’s children) by Pablo Picasso 1954

I do it all the time. What interests me is that many of us believe that there are ‘creative types’ and then the rest of us. Why is it then, that we all remember loving drawing when we were a kid? When did we lose our love for it? How was it that a simple piece of paper and a pencil gave us access to a place where we could create a world that was never wrong and full of wonder? It gave us a place that was always safe, where our ideas were as free and fabulous as we chose them to be.

So if we all remember loving drawing, then we were all creative at one time in the past? How did we loose our capacity for being creative? The regular response is usually ‘there was always someone better, more talented or more gifted’ so I stopped. Or ‘someone told me I wasn’t born creative’.

Grrr…. these replies break my heart break and make my blood boil all at the same time. I try to explain it in food terms….. just because you’re not a world class chef  doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a delicious meal!

In my teaching experience it is a common factor that many of us stop drawing around the age of seven or eight. It is usually when we are no longer content with our drawings based purely on imagination, we want them to have more dimension and substance. We are looking to produce images of the real things we see around us. We want them to have distance, shading and perspective. If we can’t do that then we assume we are no longer ‘creative’ and we stop. The irony here is that those skills that will help make our drawings more realistic (misrepresented proof to others that we are ‘talented’) are not at all about being creative. They are about hard work, learning to see, observe, and render what is in front of us. Many of these exercises are about mastering the mechanics of drawing, they are about practising your thinking, not exercises in practising in being creative.

There is nothing wrong with being a great draftsman. These skills can be a great visual tool to help you illustrate and understand the world you see. Ask Leonardo Da Vinci how he studied how water moved and bodies worked, and he will be the first one to tell you that drawing ‘helped him see’. But it was only a stepping stone, a tool that he could use to design all his amazing ideas and machines.

Creativity, the act of being creative is an entirely different thing. Educator Sir Ken Robinson has a great way of defining what creativity is and how educators we can help encourage it in others. He believes that understanding image of self (exploring our individuality) is as important as knowledge of the external world. That the main role of a teacher is to draw out the individual in every child. That all education is a process of self realisation.

In his book ‘Out of our Minds’ he defines the ingredients to creative learning.

Creativity is not about thinking, its about feeling. It’s feelings about ideas.”


Learning to be creative

There is a lot you can do to help become more creative. If one tells you they cannot read or write one can’t assume they are not capable of reading or writing, they just haven’t been taught how. Mark Manson from the Subtle art of Not Giving a F**** explains it as a child learning to walk. A baby doesn’t just give up and settle. We don’t let them think, mmm that walking thing, that’s just not my thing. So why then do we give up so easily on creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson takes the same view, when people tell him they are not creative he only assumes that they just haven’t learned what is involved.

He breaks down the two problems of learning to be creative.
1. Perception – learning to see. This requires guidance and direction from others.
2. Technical – practice the skills. Back to Leonardo. Practice, practice, practice.

He argues that everyone has huge creative capacities as a natural result of being a human being, the challenge is to develop them. The culture of creativity has to involve everybody, not just a select few.

What all of this tells me is that creativity can’t grow if it is not in the right environment. Of course, we all can recall one or two amazing tales of super humans who defied their negative surroundings and independently soldiered on toward artistic freedom. Alas these guys are the minority. The rest of us just put our pencils away. Not because we didn’t like being creative, usually because we had no support system that acknowledged or justified our energies.

Now the ‘buzz’ word in profitability and innovation in the business and corporate world is all about ‘creativity’. That this will be the make or break of future prosperity in business and career advancement. In all honesty, it seems a bit unfair to the next generation to implant such fears upon them when it is evident that we have failed dismally in teaching them how to think creatively throughout their education.

All is not lost. At least their are some glimmers of hope that the way we educate has the potential  to encourage rather than discourage creative thinking. Teaching others to be creative is nothing new though. The foundations for great teachers, the ones we remember, the ones that really saw and encouraged you as an individual executed the three tasks Sir Robinson claims are required for teaching creativity.

They are:

Believe in creative potential.
– Nurture the confidence to try.
– Motivation and independence of judgement.
– Willingness to take risks and be enterprising.
– Build persistence: Be resilient in the face of false starts, wrong turns and dead ends.

Creative achievement is often driven by the love of a particular subject, or medium or for a style of work that catches the imagination. Identifying people’s creative abilities incudes helping them to find their creative strengths.

Help develop skills for independent creative work. Teaching creativity well aims to encourage self confidence, independence of mind, and the capacity to think for oneself. Lessons should:
– Promote experiment and inquiry and a willingness to make mistakes.
– Encourage generative thought, free form immediate criticism.
– Encourage the expression of personal feelings.
– Convey an understanding of phases in creative work and the need for time.
– Develop an awareness of the roles of intuition and aesthetic processes.
– Encourage students to play with ideas and conjecture about possibilities and facilitate critical evaluation of ideas.

The aim is to enable students to be more effective in handling future problems and objectives, to deepen and broaden awareness of the self as well as the world; and to encourage openness to new ideas.

The best teachers I have ever had displayed the above qualities with honesty and integrity. We remember these teachers because they are the ones that inspired us. They got us to think big. They were more focused on teaching us as students more than just teaching the subjects. As William Arthur Ward  quotes…

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

Teaching others to be inspired is a whole lot harder than teaching technique. It is one of the great things I love about being an art educator. Helping nurture another person’s passion, supporting their development and watching them flourish provides a joy that parallels my love for colour.  If I can be part of a world bursting with colour, full of inspired, creative humans where creativity is nurtured, no matter what your age,  I think our future will be shaping up to be a pretty bright one.

Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s book >

Check out my classes >



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.