“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” ~ Carl Jung
While organizing my collection of assorted art materials, a memory resurfaced for me. Last spring, I observed two children engaged in different kinds of creative art activities – one open-ended (water colour painting) and one product-oriented (making a paper and paste flower). The child who had been contentedly painting eventually held up her creation and declared, “I’m an artist!” The child making the flower clearly was not enjoying himself; it took him much effort to finish the activity. He looked up and asked me, “Am I an artist?” The difference in their words did not escape my notice, and it made me a little sad. What accounted for the contrast in the perceptions that these children had of their own artistic abilities? Was it because of the nature of these activities? Did the children have different prior experiences with art materials? Was looking at and creating art a valued part of their lives? Was it related to personality and temperament? How is it that one individual can feel so confident about being an artist and another can be so full of self-doubt?
When I put all my art materials together, I realized that I had a rather big collection of pencils, chalks, pastels, brushes and tubes of paints, and a stack of sketch books….all
largely unused. I felt like this pile of things was looking at me accusingly, and asking, “Why haven’t you drawn and painted with us? Where is all the artwork you swore you’d create when you bought us?” Clearly I want to create art otherwise what would be the point of acquiring the materials to do so? And I know I value the experience of exploring creativity – I read about this, have shared ideas with students and other educators, and I blog about it. But I find myself asking the same question that little boy asked. “Am I an artist?” Then I consider the creative activities that tend to attract me – I knit (following a pattern), I cook (seldom straying from the recipe) and I play recorder (others’ compositions, not mine). And truly I feel of a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in doing these things. But I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing in the creative process that I could be experiencing when I engage in these activities. If I design my own pattern, impulsively throw ingredients together and improvise a piece of music, what is the worst that could happen? When it comes to drawing, why can’t I just feel the fear and do it anyway?
The guilt-inducing glances I keep getting from my empty sketch books suggest to me that I am a product-oriented person, who longs to be process-oriented. So I resolve to spend some time trying to understand what is standing between me and my ability to just let go, and fill up those pages, without worrying about my creations being right or wrong, without over analysing the experience or being too concerned about what others might think. I resolve to try to love this creative experience that I seem to fear. And perhaps then I’ll look at the things I create and be able to say, “I am an artist.”