Why it's Important to Remember Making Art as a Child

My son sings now.

About three weeks ago it started. I strapped him in the carrier, set off with the dogs, and there it came: "Wo... Wo... Wo... Woowoowooo."

His grandparents figured it out after a few days. Wo... Wo... Wo... was Row, Row, Row. As in "your boat." Emphasis on the Row. 

Have you heard a one year old sing? It is HEART MELTING. I mean, of course it's heart melting. But have you ever wondered why it's heart-melting? Or to receive any of their creations for that matter? Last week our seven year old neighbor gave Braeden a book he drew entitled "The Moon." Jason and I were beside ourselves. Why is child artistry just so good?

I'm sure there are lots of reasons, but for this post I want to talk about one specific set of reasons. 

I want to talk about why they DON'T create.

For example: My son doesn't sing to make me happy. (It absolutely makes me happy, and he cares not a dime.) He doesn't sing for anyone, in fact. He doesn't sing to get noticed. Nor to have an audience, and definitely not for fame or money. He absolutely doesn't sing to get better or build his technique. In fact, when you line up all the reasons adults sing, none of them apply to my child.

Or any young child.

After years of teaching art to Preschoolers on up to Retirees I feel comfortable in identifying this one reason that Braeden sings in our hikes:

He's wired to do it.

End stop.

Art is a behavior. It's something we're evolved to do naturally, often and ease-fully.  Even Picasso famously said "All children are born artists." 

In the face of this beautiful truth about artistry enters a lie. Starting young, the culture tells children another story. It's a capitalist story that says making art is only valuable as a skill. In other words, the point is not to create for the sake of itself.

The point is to get "good" at it...

Hey, look. There's nothing wrong with skill-building or wanting to be better at something. I am the product of years of artistic technical practice. Working to improve at something is deeply satisfying and meaningful. The problem is that the culture says "getting good" at art is the only real pursuit. It says this about a lot of things. Making things because it feels good might be sweet, but it's not 'real art.' 

It's at this point I should mention: Even I struggle with this. Some of the most meaningful creations I've done are in my art journal. Yet when I meet strangers I don't tell them about those. I tell them about the mural at the Dell Children's Hospital. Or the semi-truck art wrap for Boston Beer Company. For all intents and purposes the 'realest art' was in the privacy of my studio, but that's not how the culture views it.

Art as a behavior is a hobby. Art as skill on a corporate wall is badass.

How does this story affect the way we collectively create the art the world desperately needs? It has been deeply meaningful for me to work with large brands. I would never diminish that. What I am saying is that for far too long, capitalist versions of making are prioritized over all others. Now we have cultures of kids who inevitably try to create things within whatever framework society identifies as "good at the time." If they can't do it, they drop making things altogether.

Art teacher here, and I can tell you there's research on when children decide they're not artists. Eight or nine years old. Maybe you made this decision then too.

I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time an adult found out I was an illustrator and said: "I can't draw a straight line with a ruler." As if somehow that means literally anything about their capacity to create meaningful art. We now occupy a world that is positively full of people believing they have absolutely no business making art of any kind. Maybe you are one them. Probably you are one of them. I certainly wonder this on the regular, and I make art professionally. Every single person reading this created things as naturally as breathing when they were a child. Remembering this is tremendously important to the quality of your adult life. Technical skill is inspiring, but there's honestly something even better.

One reason I love my child singing, is while Mariah Carey range he has not, his motivation is crystal clear. His very essence is song. So he sings. He comes home to himself. He regulates his nervous system. When people witness a child making things, they get a chance to remember what it felt like to make things that way too.

Picasso famously said: "It took me four years to learn to paint like Raphael, and a lifetime to paint like a child." I think when people read that they imagine he's referencing his cubist style. It certainly is decidedly child-like. However, I also believe he's referencing the artistic mind-state of a child. If I think about the amount of meditation, reflection, and therapy it would take me to make things as ease-fully as my one year old, I understand what he means by 'a lifetime.'

Until later in life, even I didn't think of my work as a behavior. I thought of my art as a cluster of principles and elements of design, masterfully arranged to please others aesthetically. I thought of art as a purely physical act. Rarely an energetic one. I was Picasso training to be Raphael. As I began to wake up to the ways art is behavioural, I realized returning to our creative roots art must be the next frontier for makers. It's the crux of my Intuitive Drawing courses, and artistic philosophy in general.

Art is a behavior. Not merely a skill. How you made art as a child is what the world needs more than ever.

In May I am going to take a stab and writing about why the worlds needs this more than ever. Until then, consider grabbing some crayons, putting on a record, mixing a fun recipe, taking an improv class, or set up a lemonade stand. Then give yourself permission to do it for no other reason than you freaking love that shit. Do it for a few days. See how your life changes. 

I love y'all,


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