Another weekend, another sale, and this one, I'm very sorry to say, with Christmas overtones. I can't believe I'm taking part in promoting Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving! Anathema! But putting that aside, what struck me this weekend was a question that I was asked by at least three people who were viewing my art and books: Are your children artistic, too?
The answer that I give is "Yes." My children both enjoy drawing and all sorts of craft projects, and they both enjoy writing. P has been at work on an epic sci fi/fantasy adventure entitled The Adventures of Space Squirrel Fluff, while T is to illustrate this ever-lengthening masterpiece. T also works hard and takes joy in adding a wealth of detail and description to her weekly essays assigned for school, and appears to believe that there is nothing in the universe that she can't make out of scraps of paper. They both did a number of pictures to illustrate my Kate and Sam Adventures books, and they're full of all kinds of creative ideas. Yes, both my children are artistic… But of course they are, because what strikes me about the question is the assumption that there are children who are not artistic, and this seems like a very strange assumption.
I believe that all people (which includes all children!) are naturally artistic in some sense. I believe that all children are capable of telling wonderful stories, creating beautiful visual images, and surprising the world with interesting new ideas. Some may be better at drawing a horse so it looks like a horse, others may be better at improvising tunes on a harmonica, still others may have a special gift for expressive metaphors, others may have a wonderful color sense. Unfortunately, many people decide at some point in their lives that they aren't artistic - usually anyone who isn't particularly natural at drawing the horse that looks like a horse. When I was an art teacher I was occasionally told by my students' parents about how some never-forgotten elementary or middle school art teacher of theirs told them they had no talent, and that was the end - they never made art again. I've also seen children look at their neighbor's picture and conclude for themselves that if her horse looks more like a horse than theirs they might as well just stop trying. But for whatever reason people decide they have no talent, the more they believe it the less they try, and the less they try the less skill they have, and the less skill they have the more it confirms their belief that they just aren't artistic.
Yes, it's absolutely true that for any given skill some people have less natural facility than others. It's absolutely true that we aren't all geniuses. But I've seen students with no particular "talent" produce gorgeous works of vibrant, meaningful art because they put their whole hearts and their whole enthusiasm into creation. I myself am living testament to the belief that not being a genius is not the same as not being artistic. I am no genius - but being artistic isn't a zero sum game. It isn't as if someone else's ability to write a thrilling narrative or sketch a beautiful portrait uses up some of my share of creativity. We can all be creative. We can all be artistic. Indeed, I believe that we all are… or would be if we would just work at it instead of giving up on it.
As for children, I know mine are artistic, but so are you and your children, and so are everyone's, because humans are born artistic. Imagine what the world might be like if we succeeded in helping the next generation stay that way!
[Picture: Busy Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007;
"Sam put the basket where the bee directed him," colored pencil and marker on paper by T Nydam (aged 6), illustration from Kate and Sam to the Rescue, p 35, 2008.]