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Holding on to our creative freedom

Expressing themselves: children have an abundance of creativity but adults tend to worry about being seen as “wrong”

“How was art?” My eight-year-old’s favourite subject. “OK,” came the response, sounding less than OK. “We were learning to draw faces. We had to do them correctly.”

Sounds great to me. Why wouldn’t he be happy about getting it right?

He has a new teacher this year and it seems they are taking the instruction more seriously. Surely that’s a good thing?

“Before, we got to do it our way. We could make mistakes,” he said. “Our teacher said to keep adding detail, work on it and we would end up with something different. Better. Our own.”

This struck a chord with me: a low, sad tone. There was a truth to this I could see like a distant memory. I stopped drawing a long time ago. I would relish being taught to draw faces “correctly” because now I don’t even try. I’d be afraid I’d get it wrong; it might be terrible, I would be judged.

His previous teacher had not only been teaching art, he had been advocating for creativity. That thing that children have in abundance, singing themselves made-up songs, dancing to no music, telling long, rambling stories of fantastical things that don’t make much sense. Expressing themselves freely.

They don’t worry that they are “being weird”, “talking nonsense”, not doing it “properly”.

For us adults, the thought of doing something incorrectly — getting it wrong — can fill us with a sense of dread. It can stop us doing things, shut us down expressing ourselves. When did we lose that creative freedom?

The thing is, correctness is highly valued — especially throughout our education. There are so many places where correctness is wholly appropriate. Incorrect accounting, for example, can get you into serious trouble. But too blanketed an emphasis on correctness can also be limiting and alienating.

As individuals, we are all different, each with varying strengths and abilities. Suggesting there is only one “right” way to do everything discounts anyone who may have an alternative.

Over-emphasising correctness can lead to fear of failure with the assumption that “wrong” is failure. This fear often shuts people down from ever trying something. The result? A loss of potential talent and productivity.

Then there is innovation. Correctness assumes that the status quo is the best model. Without attempts to push that model, to try alternatives, to get things “wrong” and in doing so perhaps come up with a new and better approach or idea, growth and innovation are thwarted.

Pablo Picasso knew the correct way to draw faces but how “wrong” he chose to do it when painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, often cited as the catalyst for a new artistic movement.

I still want my son to get his maths homework right and I hope he can see the value in learning technical skills.

But, I also want to encourage him not to lose sight of what he still knows: that truly expressing ourselves is about granting ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, keep working, check the details and make something better — something that is our own.

Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com