How My Kindergarten Students Became My Art Teachers

I used to describe myself as a creative and artistic person.  In high school, I was always writing songs and unabashedly sharing them.  Somewhere, between 17 and 27, I stopped.

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It was a combination of factors.  Someone said my songs all sounded ‘sort of the same.’ After that, I felt paralyzed by the pressure to be inventive.  I also took a college class about The Beatles – a humbling experience which led to me feeling supremely inadequate in pretty much all musical endeavors.

Having moved away from home for university, I wanted to be a success; to me, this meant doing well in school.  I was on a scholarship and needed A’s to maintain it; it was a slippery slope of approval seeking. I became fixated on “the right answer” and became less of a risk-taker.  By aspiring to meet my professors’ standards, I was humbled and polished, but I also lost my naive fearlessness and indomitable confidence.  As the external stakes became higher, my creative voice became increasingly cautious and imitative.  As a result, I dedicated less and less time to creative pursuits.

At my first job, I was thought of as detail-oriented and reliable, but never as a big-picture or visionary thinker.  This bothered me.  I wanted put my A-type qualities to use, but doing so seemed to come at the cost of developing my dormant creative side.  By the end of my time there, I felt intimidated by, and totally reliant on, others whom I deemed as ‘creative thinkers.’

And then I started teaching Kindergarten.

I have found that 5-year-olds have a magical ability to bring everything into the current moment.  Their needs are immediate, and they are wonderfully egocentric.  Typically, they don’t say “I’m no good at art” or “I can’t come up with ideas.” They aren’t weighed down with the self-doubt that we pick up throughout our lives.  My kindergarteners teach me what I need to unlearn.

One day, my class was making tree paintings. First, they made tree outlines using thin black marker, and then they painted in their work with watercolors.  Had I been prompted to do the same activity, I would have made trees with stick-like brown trunks and circle-shaped green tops.  But my kids? They went outside to look at real trees.

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They painted the grey and white and dark spots in the bark.  They added swings, birds, and homes for squirrels.  They added multiple colors to the background, and explained that they were capturing the sky in motion.  They painted freely without second guessing themselves, and moved their paintbrushes confidently across the paper, never looking at anyone else’s work or asking me if they were doing it “right.”

I left school feeling more inspired than I had in a long time.  I brought home a set of watercolor paints and spent my Friday night making my own tree paintings.  At first my paintings were cautious.  Too stiff, too careful.  I started moving more quickly, thinking less about the result, and reminding myself that the paintings were just for me. It felt unnatural, but it felt good.

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I’ve realized how many limits I imposed on myself, and how damaging it was to my sense of self.  To me, living with heart, means living openly and fully.  Connecting with the creative voice inside is necessary in order to do this.

Reigniting my creativity has been a gradual process.  It started by me noticing its absence, and choosing to think of my creativity as shy instead of nonexistent.  Since my night of painting trees,  I have noticed creative momentum building in many areas of my life.  I hope before long, I’ll be writing music again.

Tips to Reignite Creativity:

1. Spend time with children and when they are doing art projects, join them.

2. Make or buy clay, or another material you loved as a child. Spend a night at home (alone), just playing with it.

3. Make your own tree painting!

4. Purchase a coloring book for adults – it’s so relaxing!

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