I have more thoughts about Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon.
I finished the last post with my thoughts on the process of making and how I am finding it enormously beneficial to have a go at things regardless of whether I think I can do them or not, and how those attempts are teaching me a great deal. Failing to do things is teaching me a great deal.
The freedom to fail is something that I have only discovered in recent years and yet I would say that it is the single most empowering thing I have learned in my life. Growing up, I was terrified of failure. I place the blame for this largely at the feet of schools. Learning in a hot house environment, surrounded by lesson plans and deadlines and the ever looming threat of exams does not give you a lot of room for exploration or failure and that is a shame.
It’s worse now I think, because now more than ever schools are narrow, battery farms that churn out people who are supposed to be obedient and think and act the same as each other. Individuality and by extension creativity is beaten out of kids in favour of a one size fits all approach.
That this approach is harmful is never more apparent than if you are ever (and I really, really hope you are not) obliged to deal with a child with mental health issues. It is no surprise to me that the number of mental health referrals to CAMHS is spiralling out of control when we are constantly micro managing children’s lives so that they become pliable and unproblematic and fit into little cages.
It seems to me that we are taking children who are free, creative, intuitive thinkers and feelers who operate in technicolour and multi dimensional spaces and pushing them into small, grey boxes and then wondering why they don’t flourish.
And yet this is logically nuts. If you look at many of the greatest inventions, ideas, artists, musicians, thinkers the world has given us, they are nearly always the odd kids, the outliers, those who were vilified in their time but pushed on regardless. Think about what the world would be like if instead of rewarding the mundane, our schools were places of wild, intuitive, creative exploration where things are constantly possible and failure was part of the process of exploration.
I’ve written about this elsewhere but I remember the key to understanding failure as a positive, life enhancing experience came to me when I went to a networking lunch I was frankly, absolutely dreading and the keynote speaker was talking about diets. I have a child with an eating disorder so you can imagine how not there for it I was. Anyway, to be polite I sat and listened and for the most part I was as unimpressed as I expected to be. But then she said something that woke me up and changed my life. She said that you only have to look at how a child learns to walk to understand the best way of learning. She said a child learns to walk by falling over all the time. It is how they choose to get up that is important.
It blew my mind. And it changed my life. I am a better person for embracing the idea of it being ok to fall over, because it will always teach me how to get up.
Another lesson I learned from that day, which I was kind of doing already, but which hammered home, and which is also in Steal Like An Artist is the idea of being open to new things. I didn’t want to go to that lunch. I didn’t think that there would be anything there for me except boredom and possibly rage (against the diet industry). There were indeed both of those things, but there was also that moment of epiphany which remains one of the most valuable things that I’ve ever learned.
Learning is a journey, not a destination. I am never, ever going to know everything. In fact, it’s fair to say that I generally know three fifths of bugger all. That’s ok. I don’t need to be wise. What I have learned that I need is to be curious.
I want to know about things. I don’t want to be reading the same books at fifty as I read at twenty, because I’m not the same person. The world is full of amazing things, people and ideas and I want to find out more about them and open my world rather than shut it down.
It is great to be curious. I find the world endlessly fascinating at all kinds of levels and I am hungry to expand my views. If there is anything I am ever sure about, it’s usually a bad sign. It’s why I read things I am not sure I will like, listen to new music, go and see random art exhibitions. It’s why even though I’m not a huge fan of classical music, I listen to some every now and again, because one day I might have that epiphany moment and anything that does that, enriches my world.
It’s that idea of not existing in a bubble that only exists to make me feel more comfortable. It is more beneficial if I expand my bubble in a creative way instead of spending it fighting Nazis on Twitter.
Although every now and again it is hugely satisfying to fight Nazis on Twitter.
For me, a lot of this is about satisfaction. People talk about wanting to be happy in their lives. Of course they do. Nobody wants to go around like Eeyore, chewing on thistles and moaning in the undergrowth, but sometimes happiness is a tall order.
Satisfaction however, is different. Am I satisfied with this is a really, really interesting question to ask myself. It means that I am registering whether something is enriching and rewarding my life and this means I can be ok with the things in life that don’t make me happy as well as the ones that do. I needed to go to that networking lunch for work. I knew it wasn’t going to make me happy, but it did end up being extremely satisfying and it added richness to my life that wasn’t there before. That’s creative, even though I didn’t get a painting or a tangible thing out of it.
And that’s my final thought for now. Living a creative life doesn’t mean that you have to create actual things. Living a creative life is possible without painting a single canvas or writing a single word. A creative life to me is one that gives you a satisfyingly rich interior life that allows you to grow way beyond what your physical life can offer you.
A lot of being creative to me is about how you look at the world and by extension, how you understand it. If I only ever understand the world from the limits of my own head/life it will be a narrow one because there is only one of me and only so much time in the day for me to exist.
If I open my mind to the creative process of looking at things the way other people see and experience them, it pushes that narrowness outwards and that creates empathy and tolerance and feeds that curiosity I was talking about earlier.
My daughter is neurodiverse. Her brain does not process like other people’s. Obviously every brain is different but a neurodiverse brain is a whole other level of different again. People on this spectrum can find it hard to impossible to conform to what we think of as ‘normal’ social behaviours and at times that can cause real difficulties. It’s a bit like two people speaking entirely different languages to each other who are trying to communicate and failing because they think they are speaking the same language as each other.
I have learned, over the years, that when I think she is at her most ‘difficult’ it is actually not because she means to be it is because we are speaking two different languages and I am failing to understand her. What I think is going on is not what is going on at all. I have learned to observe and think and look differently at what she is saying and doing. I have learned to be creative with my perspective. It means that nowadays there are less of these difficult moments, and when they do happen, we can resolve them because I am willing to fail and I am willing to enrich my mind with the idea of learning something new. It’s a creative process. It’s an art. It’s what makes life more satisfying.