Born Creators

We are all BORN creators. Like Pablo Picasso says: Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Do you believe that? That every child is an artist? I do. Picture a classroom full of preschoolers, or kindergarteners…they’re fearless, right? Born creators. They love it…can’t get enough. Ask your kid, ask any kid–they will tell you they LOVE art—in fact, the majority of them do. What happened to all those kids that loved art?

I would offer that that little art-loving soul is still inside of you. It still loves art and imaginative creating but hasn’t been allowed to play in a very long time.

Before we became hyper-aware to this mysterious judging panel watching our every move, we were five—drawing with abandon anything we could dream up, using every color imaginable. Then we would run to our parents, “look at what I made!” So proud of what we had created. We rode bikes, and fell, and got up and tried again. That is, until they reach age 8 or 9 (or somewhere in there). This is the time when we start learning all the things we’re good at and the things we’re not so good at. It’s those formative years that we start defining our own limitations and creating boxes for ourselves to fit nicely inside of.

I think we stop creating art as adults because we put an insane amount of value on whether our efforts are stellar and impress others, instead of whether we are changed and moved by our experiences. Creating always involves an emotional experience. That’s why Art Therapy works.

Though I am not a therapist, I have painted with many of you at a “Painting in the Vineyard” event and have witnessed the creative experiences of, literally, thousands of people. I’ve observed a very distinct pattern in the way we, as humans, experience creating. We all seem to go through a specific cycle of emotions, or an arc, really. In fact, an artist friend Luis Ramirez, (who has a show up at the Elverhoj Museum right now, actually–check it out!) posted this perfect photo on the creative process the other day on one of his social media feeds that I follow and it was the most relatable thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Creative Process Flow Chart

Best, right? I apologize for the swearing, but it was just so perfect. It hilariously describes the creative arc. It’s what I’ve observed while teaching many of you–and what I experience every time I paint. It’s the beginning when most everyone feels pretty confident and excited–the “this is fun, I’m not too bad with a paintbrush” stage…but deteriorates pretty quickly to the “oh no, what have I done–this will not end well” stage. Then we’re onto underpainting when everything seems wrong and counter-intuitive. This stage and perhaps the one before is usually where people begin to be very self critical–vocally. Self-sabotage and negativity is rampant in the painters’ dialogue. But, then, when we’re nearing the end (or once the painter steps back from what they’re working on for a second), there is a shift. We round the corner and suddenly the painting starts looking like something. Details and highlights are added and it starts taking shape. Everyone’s starting to feel better about their paintings.

Now, you may or may not ever get to a “this is awesome” stage…especially on your first painting, but come on, cut yourself some slack…FIRST painting, people. Beside, any artist will tell you that behind every good painting is hundreds of…meh paintings they would never show.

I share all of this to say that I think we’re missing the point of creating. Creating feeds our soul—it is nourishment. It is not a competition or a self-evaluation tool. It is good for our mind, body and spirit.

I also understand, though, that creating is one of the most vulnerable things we can do. Kids do it instinctively, but as we get older, we’ve learned to be careful with what we expose of ourselves. Because it’s scary & risky and vulnerable to make something and show it to the world. It’s a little piece of you that you offer up and say “here…I hope you like it.” It stretches us and challenges us to be vulnerable and to discover parts of ourselves we didn’t yet know existed.

And to try and pick something up now…as an adult? Forget it. That’s so scary! When you’re five, you know that trying something new involves learning and practice. Now that we’re adults we seem to believe that by virtue of the years we’ve put under our proverbial belts, we should be able to deliver perfection the first time we do anything new. And this anxiety often deters us from making good on that inkling to pick up a paint brush, take a dance class, sign up for that jewelry making lesson or ceramics class.

Don’t let that voice win. Doing something creative, trying something for the first time is not really about the outcome. It’s about the process.

I wonder if, when we practice things that we’ve told ourselves (or others have told us) for years that we can’t do or we’re not good at–we might just surprise ourselves? It might just be terribly therapeutic to learn a new skill or practice something long forgotten that was once a piece of us.

I tell my classes all the time—just try it. If you get lost in it…if you lose track of time, do more of it! That is life-giving stuff—that is good for your soul. We need to engage in activities that are good for our souls. We all have heard the buzz word “self-care”—it’s being talked about for good reason. When we care for ourself…when we nurture ourself…only then can we nurture those around us. As Eleanor Brown says so eloquently: “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the OVERFLOW. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

Love + Art,