Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
– Pablo Picasso
In his book “Steve Jobs”, Walter Isaacson reflects on a conversation between Jobs and Bob Dylan discussing creativity and composition. Dylan ponders his heyday of song writing saying “that doesn’t happen anymore, I just can’t write them that way anymore…” Then Bob pauses and says to Jobs in his raspy voice and a smirk, “But I still can sing them.”
Even Bob Dylan feels that he “grew up”. I don’t want to grow up and lose that sense of the creative, the passion, and the aspiration.
Creative – and remaining an artist
Sir Ken Robinson has a wonderful story in his TED Talk: “How Schools Kill Creativity” about a little girl who announced to her teacher she was drawing a picture of God. The teacher replied, “But nobody knows what God looks like,” to which the nascent artist responded, “They sure will in a minute.”
She was not afraid that her drawing was incorrect. Being wrong and erring are an organic part of the creative process. Yet schools and other organisations (dare I say the military) condemn mistakes-and want us to just grow up. Thus, by the time children “grow up”, they are mistake averse as well.
Every education system worldwide places math and languages at the top of the stack and ranks the arts at the bottom. In the US, we hear about the need to encourage students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees. We do the same thing in the military. There are far more college scholarships available for STEM degrees as opposed to the “arts”. This is because public education originated to meet the needs of industrialisation. But times are changing.
What age are we in today? One could argue we are on the verge of yet a third industrial revolution, but in the same breath we hear about the information age or perhaps the post-information age, the conceptual age, or the age of artificial intelligence. No matter the age, we need creatives, and creatives have enhanced every age from the dawn of time.
There are a myriad of books, articles, and dissertations written on the need to be creative, yet we seem to discourage the pursuit of natural abilities, or even worse, we stigmatise people for demonstrating brilliance in the arts-well unless you are Bob Dylan, and even Bob is having a tough time today and losing his creativity.
Passion – and remaining an artist
The good news is the very “structure of education” is in flux. Thus, as leaders, educators, and mentors, we must “radically rethink” our narrow concept of how we define intelligence. People can think through movement, sight, or sound, because intelligence is indeed truly “diverse”.
Following our passion is the key to finding this diversity. Some of the greatest leaders throughout history had a passion for the arts and a penchant for creativity. Ponder the leadership and creativity of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, George Washington, George S. Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower-all exceptional leaders (with their flaws) and all incredibly creative and very embracive of the art of creativity all while following their passion.
The most powerful leaders are creatives in some way, shape, or form, and they give us perspective on our condition (good or bad) and greater appreciation of our world, ourselves, and our choices. Moreover, they challenge, excite, and motivate.
Aspiration – and remaining an artist
Aspiration is simply the hope or ambition of achieving something. We must mentor, lead, encourage dreams, and assist in the development of a passion to learn. If we cannot connect the student’s desire, passion, creativity, and hope for the future into curriculum, the student simply checks out.
Today’s high school curriculum was developed in the late 1800s in the hope of providing a curriculum that would provide poor students the same education as rich, smart kids. Whatever was taught at prestigious colleges was transferred to high schools-hence we have calculus, algebra, chemistry, biology, etc. in our secondary schools.
Our teens complain about learning chemistry, yet nothing regarding personal finance, nothing about medicine, and nothing about law-all things our young leaders actually need immediately after graduating. Think about it. We learn chemistry, yet we can’t balance a chequebook or understand the rule of law-how does that make sense? It’s about creating an environment where aspiration, or the hope of achieving something can thrive. Aspiration does not look the same to everyone.
Elon Musk has started his own school. The school is Ad Astra, Latin for “to the stars” in southern California. Musk describes a school without the traditional grade structure of American primary education, with the goal of catering to students’ aptitudes, aspirations, and passions not by arbitrary schedules but in real time, and using problem-solving methods to teach critical thinking. Musk, a father of five, says he started the school simply for his own children. The school now has 14 pupils (with a total of 20 scheduled to attend this fall).
Schools – and remaining an artist
Following the Ad Astra model, our schools must allow students to follow and flourish in their passion and aspiration. What gets rewarded is reinforced. Obsession with standardized test scores assaults imagination, the creative, and critical thinking, narrowing curriculum and classroom experience around the lifeless task of filling in bubbles with number two pencil beneath a myriad of multiple-“choice” questions crafted in distant, corporate cubicles. It deadens the minds of our youngsters and forces ultimate conformity at an early age. If we simply push a curriculum developed in the 1800s, reinforced with standardised testing, are we preparing or un-preparing our next generation to compete in our complex and confusing global marketplace?
The answer to the question Picasso poses – how to remain an artist once we grow up? We must encourage creativity and passion, and allow our schools to step into the 21st Century to give our next generation the hope of achieving something – with all these Pablo Picassos out there, imagine what our world could be.
So embrace the creative, the passion, the diversity. Be intentional in encouraging, developing, and remaining artists, and rethink growing up – or at least birthdays.