When you ask kids to draw, they jump right in. But when you ask adults, the reaction is completely different. They freeze out of panic, replying, “I don’t know how to draw.” Many kids don’t know how to draw either, yet adults celebrate kids’ creative work. Why are adults much more judgmental about their own artistic expression? At what point do we draw a line that separates those who know how to do it (artists) and those who don’t? When doodling stops being fun and it becomes something more serious. Something we call art.
If It’s Not Fun, It’s Not Art
Last week, I was invited to an innovation project on how to improve the art experience at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Coaching a group of professors, we embarked on the task of understanding how students relate to art. We realized that there is a love/hate relationship with art. Small chance events, at an early stage, determined on which side of the fence people stood.
Phrases like “this is not good enough,” “You don’t KNOW how to sing,” “you don’t have artistic talent” built the perception that art is not for them, it’s only for an elite. This is also based on the misconception that artistic talent always shows up at an earlier stage. A perfect counterexample to that is William Zinsser –author of Writing Well — who didn’t find his writing voice until he was in his 50s .
It seems that school is the place where our first creative ideas get killed. Instead of nurturing creativity, they favor kids that conform to the norm. According to Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher, we have a creative crisis. American children’s creativity has been decreasing since 1990, making them less able to produce original ideas. They’re falling in the same right-or-wrong trap than adults, earlier than in other generations.
“Art has to be fun. If you are not enjoying
the creation process, then it’s not art.”
Even for those who consider themselves artists, external pressure gets in the way. Like Joanna, an artist and GVSEU graduate, said, “Art has to be fun. If you are not enjoying the creation process, then it’s not art.” For her, art is more about the journey (self-expression) than just the final outcome.
Emancipating from the Experts
“Make. Just make. This is the key.
In this era of democratization, the role of experts is constantly challenged. People are becoming emancipated from their doctors: they can generate their medical metrics — labs, physical exams — through a smartphone. Grand Rapid residents are generating hyperlocal news empowered by The Rapidian, a citizen journalism platform. YouTube is kids’ first choice when it comes to learning something, not their schoolteachers. Instagram pictures are being used in main media covers –like the Time magazine issue on the Baltimore riots –, challenging photojournalists.
The role of art critics –both professional and not– needs to evolve too. Jeremy Barker, editor of Culturebot.org, says it better in an interesting NY Times debate: “We must develop new frameworks that reflect this interdisciplinary, hyperlinked, hybrid world. The need for serious criticism is greater than ever, but all we seem to get –whether from professionals or amateurs– is more reviews and opinions.”
If art is fun, why limit that experience to just a few? We should open it up, in the same way NIKE has encouraged everyone (not just those in good shape) to exercise, helping a lot of people to feel good about themselves.
From Artist to Makers
It’s not just the word “art” that’s not doing art a favor, but its association to someone else judging yourself. This right/wrong equation freezes people instead of encouraging them to express themselves. Experimentation is critical for creativity. Mastering a new skill takes around seven years. If people quit playing an instrument during the first few weeks, how can they possible learn how to do it?
How might we create a better relationship between art and non-artists? I can’t stop but think of the Maker Movement that’s encouraging everyone to become an inventor, a designer, and tinkerer. What better way to encourage creativity for all than the MAKE manifesto:
“Make. Just make. This is the key.
The world is a better place as a participatory sport.
Being creative, the act of creating and making, is actually fundamental to what it means to be human.”
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