Years ago I used to teach toddler art at Elmhurst Art Museum. This is to say that I provided opportunities for kids to explore and play using a variety of art materials. The toddlers already innately understood what creativity and creating was all about. This was their opportunity to learn a new method and to basically freedom to safely make a mess with their caretaker or parent by their side.
The most wonderful thing about toddlers is that they don’t doubt their creativity, and so they don’t think twice about their creative choices. There is no second guessing on which crayon they choose, but unfortunately for some toddlers, they would hear doubt coming from the adult sitting next to them. I would sometimes witness parents and caretakers censoring their child’s creative choices. I don’t mean recommending their child not eat glue or stick a dyed, raw pasta in their ear. What I do mean is they would tell their child not to paint a giraffe blue, make faces with three eyes, or to limit the amount of paint on their paper. The adult imposes their expectations on the outcome of the toddler’s project, when the whole point is develop the child’s creativity through exploration and making choices. What happens if I do this. . . The child does not have attachment to the outcome.
I remember one child who painted made a lovely silhouetted tree against a watercolor horizon. These were older, preschool kids. So, I let them use waterproof india ink. This child then came to understand the potency of the black ink and decided to paint the entire paper in thick black ink. As the landscape disappeared under a void of black, I could see the child brim with satisfaction of the inky process. You want to try it now, don’t you?
We adults often don’t get it. We have forgotten what true creative choice is. We’ve probably forgotten because adults have taught us to mistrust our choices. We’ve been taught to focus on the outcome - the product - something that looks “right” - that could be posted on our refrigerator. We’ve been taught what is “right’ and what is “wrong”. We’ve been taught conformity which ultimately leads to doubt and shame if we don’t.
When I was teaching, I’d try to combat the parent or caretaker’s direction by affirming the child by reminding the parent that artists get to choose.
That’s what is powerful about art but often gets overlooked. Artists make choices, and we have to make peace with our choices. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. If you are in art school, you have to have reasons for your choices. You have to think through historical conventions and symbology, but you get to decide what and how you are going to say or show something.
If creativity means having choice, with creativity we can look at our lives and think outside of prescriptions, beyond limits, and around hierarchies. We don’t have to accept what is. With creativity, a giraffe can be blue and have six eyes. We can choose.
If choice is freedom, it’s important to recognize when and where we have choice in our lives and where it is limited. Furthermore, we must acknowledge where we may be limiting someone else’s creative choices. It’s even more critical to ensure that everyone have the same freedom of choice that the most privileged has. It’s only through that freedom that we can paint our hippos pink, draw a face with seven ears, or paint over paper with such vigor and passion until it is riddled with holes.
Our freedom of creative choice means possibilities of creative power and creative vision, and to be able to see beyond the accepted and limiting standards to a world of better choices.
Hey Artist, Writers, and Makers
Want to Write for Woolgathering?
More From Spring Bird
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.