How many times have you heard someone say (or said, yourself), “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” or “I can barely draw a stick” or “I can’t dance”? In a culture that overwhelmingly values practicality, order, logic, and analytical thought, it’s easy to grow up strengthening these abilities and allowing other, equally vital, capacities to remain underdeveloped, even stunted. Yet our brains are marvelous engines, capable of great sensory discrimination, imagination, emotional range, social nuance, intuition, and finding connections among seemingly disparate things and ideas—all processes associated with creativity. The fact is, being creative is an essential part of being human, and to allow our creativity to remain undeveloped is to miss out on reaching our full potential and the practical success and emotional fulfillment it brings.
Creativity is also the cry of current leaders in education, business, and government. In the increasingly competitive world marketplace, it has become clear that America’s future economic security and leadership depend on innovation. This has led to the recent educational emphasis on science, technology, math, and engineering. And these skills are undeniably valuable to us as individuals and as a society. But the fact is, you can’t do your best thinking with only half a brain.
Actually, the concept of exclusively right-brain creativity is rapidly becoming outdated. The latest neurological research shows that creativity does not involve only a single brain region or side of the brain, but draws on a variety of interactive cognitive processes and emotions, depending on what is being created and where we are in the process. Nevertheless, it is clear that developing creativity in our children is important, not only to their future success in an unpredictable and competitive world, but to their full engagement with life’s opportunities and the personal satisfaction of manifesting all of their abilities.
So, how do we do that? One clear way is though sustained participation in the arts. What we practice doing, we grow better at doing. What engages us keeps us coming back for more. And what we repeatedly do becomes a part of who we are. Participation in the arts gives children experiences they do not often encounter in the academic classroom and teaches vital lessons that increase their creativity in all areas of endeavor.
First of all, children experience full engagement when participating in art. Their minds, emotions, and bodies are all involved in the task of creation. When a child molds a sculpture, her mind is busy envisioning the whole image while deciding on individual components of weight, contour, texture, etc. Her body is called on to skillfully interact with materials and tools. And emotion is an important guide as she “feels” whether something is right or wrong about the sculpture and whether or not it is “finished.” Full engagement in a creative project is an almost magical experience that makes time pass unnoticed and leaves the child with a sense of fulfillment and the desire to repeat the experience.
Through the arts, children discover that there is no single right way to solve a problem, and that each step in the process opens new possibilities. While there is only one correct answer to a math problem, and the curriculum dictates the steps through which it is to be achieved, this is not the case in art class. Through art, children learn to accept the unexpected and respond to new opportunities as a work unfolds. Intentions and outcomes can change with fresh circumstances. This spontaneous fluidity of thought is the secret to innovative problem solving.
Through the arts, children realize that there are many different ways to perceive and interpret the world. This sense of richness and wide emotional range are at the heart of art’s power to engage us. The child finds a freedom in art that nurtures his spirit and helps him discover his uniqueness. Participating in art builds confidence and a sense of self: this is my creation, done my way—this is who I am.
In making art, children learn to pay attention to details, and discover that small changes add up to important distinctions. Frequently, people perceive in general terms because the details don’t matter to them. But, if we intend to paint a portrait of a person, we will need to study closely every aspect of her appearance. Habitual attention to detail will train your child to notice things others don’t.
The arts encourage children to perceive and express that which cannot be conveyed with numbers or literal language. In a work of art, meaning is imparted through the relationships it embodies—the relative weights of visual elements, the poetic metaphor, the interplay of choreography and music. Children who participate in the arts learn to interpret and respond to the world beyond the limits of words or numbers. There is no better definition of “thinking outside the box.”
The cumulative effect of arts experiences on children is profound and far reaching. It opens their minds, emotions, and spirits to wider possibilities. Creative activities lead children to ask more questions—about the world and about themselves. It renders them comfortable with uncertainty and prepares them to respond flexibly to unexpected developments. Unorthodox approaches are not just tolerated—they are encouraged. Young artists’ learn to respect themselves, and others, as unique individuals capable of making a valuable contribution. In short, they become more engaged, more creative, more confident, and more likely to be innovators.
Envision a future in which your child is not merely competent in his chosen field, but brings a creative approach to solving problems, along with the confidence to share his ideas with others. Imagine your child embracing a life of spontaneous creativity and experiencing the fulfillment that comes from transforming potential into reality. If you want this for your child, seek out environments where the arts are valued and opportunities abound for your child to develop his natural creativity and explore the wide world—within and without.