Am I an Artist?

“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.”


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2 Responses to Am I an Artist?

  1. Emily says:

    I recognize that familiar pile of art materials that are largely unused. Your eloquent words have prompted me to evaluate not my own, but rather my recently turned 8 year old boy’s artistic passions.
    I wonder how to set him up for success with drawing or creating? Perhaps, what I mean is how could I inspire him to create? He truly loves to draw but will only engage from time to time. Then he takes breaks from it, not seeming interested for a few weeks.
    What are you thoughts as parents or educators on how to inspire the creative process and experience for our young children?

    • Lullabies says:

      Hello Emily, and thanks for your message. I keep reading that the arts curriculum in school becomes more product oriented, more representational in the primary grades and beyond, and at the same time children start to become a bit more self conscious about what they create, which may influence their interest in art making. I have taken a look at an excellent book by Mary Renck Jalongo and Laurie Nicholson Stamp called “The Arts in Children’s Lives: Aesthetic Education in Early Childhood”, which lists a number of ways that parents can help to foster their child’s creativity at home. A few ideas include: role-modelling by taking artistic risks yourself, finding ways to participate in your child’s creative interests, consider lessons that may deepen your child’s love of art (if this interests him), create a special area intended just for his art making and for displaying his art work. Visits to art galleries and museums can also be inspiring – I have observed children on field trips with their sketching materials, re-creating great works they are seeing. And there are many, many wonderful books for young children (many I hope to mention on the blog over time) about artists and their masterpieces which may also excite his imagination. Yours is an excellent question, and so important. I hope some of these ideas are of help!

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