The quest for creativity is exquisite to witness through the eyes of a child. There is an openness to discovery, a courageous pursuit to explore outrageous ideas, getting hands dirty and just revelling in the joy of creation, flaws and all!
We see it in their eyes and feel it in their animated energy. The experience of failure is dismissed and new ideas pursued. We have much to learn from children.
I believe many of the lessons we learn about creativity, we already learned very early in our lives, inconveniently forgotten and filed away in an imaginary file folder of past experiences.
As I look back on my own experiences as a child, I realize creativity was central in my life. Expressing creativity was immensely important to me on several levels – personally, socially, relationally. The poetry, painting and sketching were a form of artistic expression that naturally evolved the more I explored various mediums; and they were an emotional release that evolved as a teen and adult. I didn’t realize it at the time, creativity for me was an immense and natural healing process. It still is.
I discovered poetry at eleven, wrote mystery stories shortly after, painted with oil and sketched in pencil. I even created my own imaginary entrepreneurial business as a young thirteen year old – branding it “The Catalogue Game”.
The game was a phone in ordering system for make-believe products, my sister being the unwitting customer, marketed through a catalogue. I was the designer, marketer and seller taking orders over the phone.The Catalogue Game was my first “business project” and one which I realized a fascination for creating forms to capture information. Little did I know that this experience years later would launch me into a marketing career and a fondly given title of ‘Form Queen’!
I realize now more than ever I started quite early in the quest for creativity; purely for the joy of creating. The repercussions of being judged when sharing my art, my games and experiencing praise and criticism were par for the course. I trusted in the process.
I was very fortunate to have had a high school art teacher who nurtured my artistic pursuits, modelling constructive criticism as a natural part of the creative process. Creativity felt like a learning process for which each experience was a stepping stone to that next cool shiny jewel of an idea, artistic expression or even, a fun game. So, why do we sometimes suppress creativity?
I can think of several experiences that raised the risks and stakes of creative self-expression:
- Fear of Asking Questions
- Being a hostage to certainty
- Holding back for perfection
I had an experience early in my childhood that lives with me, the memory of which is palpable until today.
Now, imagine a grade five classroom of boisterous children. At the front is a harried teacher aiming to get through the lesson of the day. Sitting in the back of the classroom, sits a bright-eyed relentlessly curious ten year old with her hands up in the air, posing questions, perhaps interrupting the flow. I don’t know. What I do remember is being scolded to:
“Stop!”, “Stop asking questions!”
I still feel the pang of embarrassment in my chest. I learned the fear of asking too many questions – the fear of embarrassment. At first, I refrained from asking questions in an open forum, reserving them for a side discussion with a teacher, parent or friend. Yet, the memory lived on.
Several similar experiences of being ridiculed by authority figures and peers alike had me go inside with my queries. I did remain curious, don’t get me wrong, and these experiences turned a naturally extroverted child into introversion. Eventually, as I matured, I became more comfortable asking questions openly in front of a group, and it took time.
As I write this, I feel a revelation light up. Is it possible that these experiences had me express my creativity, and the curiosity that comes with it, on a more personal level? I believe so. The poetry and prose continued to naturally emerge, shared with a select few. Today those saved scribbles remain an inspiration for more creativity. Hummmm, silver lining?
The value of questions cannot be understated. Jonathan Fields, author of “Uncertainty”, says it well:
“Genius always starts with a question, not an answer. Eliminate the question and you eliminate the possibility of genius. However, that’s where things get really sticky. For all but a rare few, “living in the question” hurts. It causes anxiety, fear, suffering and pain.”
After the incident in fifth grade, “living in the question” became painful. Previously, questions, not answers, were sustenance for my insatiable curiosity. I propose that young children naturally live in the questions, asking them freely and often, with little attachment to the response. An antidote for those who “living in the question” does cause pain is to ask questions, and lots of them, with the curiosity, spontaneity and non-attachment of a child. We can only imagine the genius that emerges!
What are other antidotes for alleviating the pain of ‘living in the question’?