Who taught you that?

kids raising hands

One of the books that I find myself recommending a lot is Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie. It is a wonderfully written book touching on organizational culture, authenticity, courage, creativity, expression and other related issues. One of the stories in the book has always stuck with me, since the first time I read it. It comes early in the book when MacKenzie is talking about his experiences working with young students and he talks about going into a first grade classrooms and talking to the students. When he asks how many of them are artists: “En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.” He compares that to going into a second grade class and asking how many of them are artists: “About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.” He also talks about going into a third grade class and asking the same question: “At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.” He goes on to say “The higher the grade, the fewer children raised their hands. By the time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two did so and then only ever-so-slightly – guardedly – their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a closet artist.

But this is not a blog post about your children or about my children. This is about you. And a little bit about me. I love art. I love experiencing art and I love creating art. I paint, I draw, I write fiction, non-fiction and poetry. But most of my life has been without much art in it. I learned at an early age, like the kids in the book, that I was not an artist. I had to unlearn that to get to the truth. While I may never make a living as an artist, to say that I am not creative or artistic is absurd.

But I believed it.

I believed it for a long time. I can remember not too long ago, being introduced by a friend and one of the things that she said about me was that I was “a writer.” I replied with something like, “gosh, I’m not really a writer.” When I said those words “not really a writer,” I had been blogging for over five years, I had had a number of articles published, I had written a couple of white papers and I had co-authored a book. How does that fit into any definition of not a writer?

What silliness have you learned or accepted about yourself? Think you are not creative? Think you cannot change or affect change? Not a leader, don’t have anything significant to say? Think you can’t make a difference?

You should reconsider that stuff.

“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

-Vincent van Gogh

Be good to each other.

  1. Jeffrey Cufaude

    Reminds me of an Edward deBono quote I often share where he talks about us starting school with a box of 64 crayons and ending with one blue pen.

    For your example of being a writer, I wonder if there also is some sort of psychological bridge we cross when we move from the activity (the writing) to the title/avocation (the writer).

    I often bristle a bit when people attach certain nouns to what I do either because I feel they are limiting, have connotations I don’t necessarily want associated with my work (i.e., motivational speaker), or because I have yet to embrace the discipline they represent. So yes, I am a writer (lowercase w), but I haven’t yet decided to be a Writer and to engage in all the habits I associate with becoming one.

    It’s not so much a voice telling me I can’t do it or I don’t do it. Instead it is a set of values, behaviors, and commitments I associate with those upon whom I prescribe that capital W title, and I have not yet done so.


  2. William Tincup

    “Yeezy taught me”

  3. Doug Shaw

    Hey Joe – for sure you are an artist, I have experienced this first hand, o poetic dude.

    And here’s a wee snippet from a recent blog post I wrote which fits nicely into this space.

    Vulnerability is the path to love, to belonging, to innovation, trust and creativity. 85% of interviewees for Brene Brown’s research (13,000 people interviewed in total) can recall a time in school that was so shaming it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners – 50% of those recollections related to art and creativity.

    We owe it to people to reverse this trend. Arty on dude 😉

  4. Robert

    Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. — Pablo Picasso

    The problem is a distinct lack of art and music classes in ALL grades.

contact       brand management by venn market strategies