art education, creativity

Relax and Enjoy the Arts. It’s Good For You.

My Grandma Bakes
From Mrs. Davies Kindergarten Classroom, circa 1978

Art education is important for our kids.

It helps develop imagination, critical thinking and problem solving skills. Making art helps stimulate memory and develop symbolic communication. It’s also a natural source of learning — a form of expression that reveals and deepens our understanding.

It’s good for all of us in other ways, too. For many creativity can be a joyful journey of self-discovery, even healing. Spending time making stuff also has a way of suspending time. There is nothing quite like the feeling of passing hours that feel like minutes in “the zone”.

Since my happy childhood days drawing horses, choreographing dance moves to Montavani and writing stories I’ve tried all the art forms I could get my hands on.

I collaged, painted and mod-podged my way through my 20s and 30s.

I wrote books of poetry and essays and started a doomed (but ambitious!) novel.

I took flamenco lessons.

I learned to play the guitar, wrote songs and performed them to a small audience of my brother, my girlfriend and my car, Ginger.

I don’t ever want to stop. Self-expression is blissful, even divine.

Being creative, especially writing, helps me process my thoughts, feelings and impressions. When I don’t journal, I feel over-full and stuck, thinking in circles. I generate new and more original ideas when I’m writing. I solve problems magically, it seems, by the process of pushing my hand across the paper.

I’ve noticed when people say they don’t enjoy making art  it’s because they’re struggling with aesthetics. They’re focused on the outcome. They fear that whatever they try won’t turn out. It won’t look good, it won’t sound good, it won’t be good. It will be, worst of all, a waste of time.

For me, the outcome is of course part of the fun, but secondary to the process. Making something is so exciting in itself. Who knows how messing around with paint or words or chords will turn out? If we admit it, wandering in the hazy unknown, even on paper, can be a bit scary for most of us — which makes artists a special kind of brave.

In Negotiating with the Dead Margaret Atwood writes of the dark tunnel writers face (and dread) when they start writing. They don’t know where the story will take them. They don’t know how it will end, or if their hard work will amount to anything. But they do it anyway, over and over again.

I believe artists and other creative sorts enter the dark tunnel because we have to. We’re so strongly compelled into the dark place to see what’s on the other side that it’s not really a choice. The idea won’t go away. The urge to create is too strong. The possibility that something amazing will come out of our efforts outweighs the risk it might actually, in fact, suck.

I dread the tunnel, too. But what I love about emerging is the wonderful surprises you could never predict — those brilliant sparks that make writing and painting and dancing and making music all the more fun.

If we approached creativity as play, nothing more weighty than a doodle, would more of us feel free to relax and enjoy the process?


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