HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE THROUGH ART
I have taught hundreds of students over the past fifty years in community college, private school and private studio settings. One thing I’ve realized is that many of us believe that people that are creative are gifted. They’ve been born with certain creative talents and those that aren’t imbued with those special proclivities are doomed to a non-creative life. Example: “I can draw a straight line!” OR “I can’t even draw a stick figure!”
But they are wrong. What I have discovered is that we are ALL creatively gifted. As human beings we are hard wired to be creative and this propensity served us well in ancient times. Think about it. We invented spears to hunt animals for food, we invented the wheel to get us going to where we needed to go, and we discovered agriculture by collecting seeds, planting them to provide food for our families. All of these and many more advances that led to civilization as we know it today were born of our combined informational knowledge and our creative endeavors: observation, visualization, problem-solving, imagination and invention. All of these creative skills enhanced our survival into the present.
The parts of our brains that have developed towards inventing, imagining and solving problems are very much alive and well in our brains today. If we recognize our innate creative abilities and adapt them to our future creative goals we see that we can contribute much to the enrichment of the human race. Unfortunately, many cultures, including ours, often debunk the power of creativity as an important global unifying developmental factor, preferring more primitive and aggressive tactics like war, repression and political domination.
In the United States today, we like to think that support for math and science in education guarantees our dominance on the educational front. And, in the global community, indeed, these skills are very important for our progress. But, if only memorizing and reiterating data propels the education of math, science, and all other fields of learning, we are selling our students short, depriving them of the resource of creativity that will integrate them with global needs.
Were academic studies to dive deeper into the creative instructional applications like problem solving, design, invention, research and development, a richer learning experience would propel students more successfully into the global future. A full spectrum of learning, combining the basic knowledge skills required by the subject combined with creative skills that require students to apply, those skills to investigate, invent, visualize-this is the expansion of knowledge we need to address a deeper, richer and more compelling motivation to improve our real and future world.
MY CREATIVE EXPERIENCE
In my own life I’ve experienced this creative transition, having applied my creative skills to re-invent or solve problems in various jobs. In teaching art. I have worked to instruct and develop this same transition in my students who come from many backgrounds including: psychotherapy, engineering, medical technicians, writers, authors, retailing associates and financial consultants.
When I was a child, I did drawings and my parents and grandparents complimented me on the little drawings and paintings I did. They said that I was gifted with an artistic talent. And, of course, their praise made me keep drawing and painting.
My experience in teaching put me in touch with people who had early on the same drive to imagine, visualize and create, but they were discouraged to go further. Rejection by an instructor, a family member, a peer, or no encouragement at all, easily destroyed their fragile and burgeoning creative impulse. As I stated earlier, we are all hard wired to create-it is the part if our brain that gives us the ability to progress our selves in our lives past our daily tasks, past schedules, routines and commitments into imagining, visualizing and yes, dreaming.
WHAT I TELL MY STUDENTS
When my students tell me that they would like to learn how to draw or paint but haven’t done anything for years because someone said they did a dumb drawing or that real learning involved memorizing facts and figures and that anything creative was just fluff-they are apologetic; as if their need to paint or draw was a silly waste of time even if they were so compelled to do so. I tell them that their quest is a great and noble one because their total enrichment involves not only knowledge, but inspiration. I say they already have the ability to create and it is time for them to start learning how to garner the rich rewards of their creative efforts.
This dialogue touches a broad demographic-the young, middle-aged and aging people that need to make their lives better somehow. My younger students often feel disenfranchised by a society that emphasizes learning by rote. My middle-aged students feel they have missed something vital in their lives-that they want to create, to learn how to draw or paint because their job and even their recreation has not satisfied them. Older aging students often feel life has passed them by, even if they might have been successful and have retired comfortably. These are the common profiles of the students I instruct and this is their primary basic theme for needing instruction. What they all share in common is the need to use a part of their brain that needs to be activated and has not been activated through their daily lives and endeavors.
CREATIVITY IS A LOCATION
Creativity is a place we go to. It has no boundaries or definitions. I know this location from my own working as an artist and can see that location connect in students. There is a palpable shift in thinking when this location is accessed. This place is a safe haven for inspiration, for getting to know your innate creative self-the one that connects you with your dreams, imagination and visions. It is often a scary but powerful resource that feels curiously, good and self-enhancing.
Much research and development in many fields including medicine, science, literature, computer science, is done through the combination of knowledge and inspiration. Knowledge alone will not build a better product, idea or world. Knowledge has limits, fences and barriers that often prevent inspiration to enter to progress to a higher goal or need.
A student of mine once remarked after I’d given my “Inspiration vs. Knowledge” lecture:
“OK, so I guess that means that when I’m writing, if I correct my errors by word check, that doesn’t necessarily make my writing better. So, I can use a protractor or a compass in my drawings, but that won’t guarantee that the drawing will be improved.”
That comment has stuck in my memory through the years. Yes, knowledge is a template but it also requires an infusion of free-range thinking, the swimmy stuff, the primal pond that grows new ideas that can evolve into exciting applications to improve the world.