The group of third graders entered the building in normal third grader fashion; shoulders shoving and tongues flapping. Girls and boys bobbed like bits of storm debris carried along by the waves of their voices in motion. Their teachers smiled with closed lips and scanning eyes. When the children finally came to a full stop, they formed a wonky crescent around a small man standing in front of a wall of painted canvasses.
The children grew still. The man, who had painted all of the canvasses, told them about how he decided to become a painter, and how his parents encouraged him. He described his process from idea to completion. The students asked questions:
“How did you choose your titles?” They wanted to know. “Why do you paint in this way?” They wondered. The artists had a quiet voice, and a still manner. Standing in the back of the room, I monitored the group for the nose-pickers and the having-to-go-to-the-bathroomers. But I strained to hear him. And so did his audience of young ones.
Later, I wandered the gallery with a smaller group of the same students. We looked at the artist’s work, and we talked about the colors. I was surprised, I confess, at the depth of their understanding, at the quality of their statements. They approached a canvas open and ready. They were looking for … I don’t know what, but they seemed to have a trust. That this is art, and that it is good, and that we should care.
One boy made consistently insightful statements. He drew strong and abstract conclusions about the relationships between size, stroke, color, placement and title.
“Maybe you’ll be artist.” I said, hoping to encourage him. “Maybe you already are.”
His answer was as quick as a his shifting third grade body. “Nah.”
I cocked my head.
“My parents want me to be an engineer.” And he walked away.
Many of us learned at a young age that playing with crayons is all well and good when you’re a child, but at a certain point, we “put away childish things.”
Who decided that playing with crayons was childish? If you’ve ever found yourself sitting with a child, mindlessly filling in an outlined anthropomorphized dinosaur only to sense the calm wash over you, you know that crayons have power.
If you have ever watched a film, and found yourself riveted or repelled or both by the combination of story, music and style, you know that stories have power.
If you’ve ever made a meal with care, or sewn up an tidy garment, or brewed the most exquisite cup of coffee; if you’ve been satisfied by the work and product of your hands, whether in wood or yarn or glue and glitter, you know that creativity is power.
If you’ve ever seen a tiny little human swimming in embryonic life, you know that creativity is power.
And so we crush it out of our children and are surprised when we forget how to color outside the lines.
My friend Ed Cyzewski wonders why and has some answers in his book, Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativty. He takes an approach mimicked by my own humanly faithful heart. We wonder the eternal human question.
Why did God make me this way? Why does he want me to create? Was it an accident?
Ed says it’s not an accident. He says creativity is a godly pursuit.
If you want to reclaim the creative impulse, if you want to ignite it in your children (or children you know), if you’re interested, even, in how creativity can link us to a God who creates with purpose, then read this book. And get out the box of crayons.