How many times have you heard someone say (or even said yourself), “I don’t have a creative bone in my body?” In a culture that values practicality, order, logic and analytical thought, it’s easy to grow up strengthening these abilities, while other equally vital talents remain underdeveloped, even stunted.
No More Right Brain vs. Left Brain
Our brains are marvelous engines, capable of great sensory connections among seemingly disparate things and ideas. Being creative is an essential part of being human, so under-developing our creativity means we don’t reach our full potential, and we miss out on practical success and emotional fulfillment.
The concept of exclusively right-brain creativity is rapidly becoming outdated. The latest neurological research shows that creativity does not involve a single region or side of the brain, but draws on a variety of interactive cognitive processes and emotions. It is clear that developing creativity in our children is important, not only to their future success, but to their full engagement with life’s opportunities and the personal satisfaction of manifesting all of their abilities.
The Art of Creation
So, how do we do that? One clear way is though sustained participation in the arts. What we practice doing, we grow better at doing. What engages us keeps us coming back for more. And what we repeatedly do becomes a part of who we are. Participation in the arts gives children experiences they do not often encounter in the academic classroom and teaches vital lessons that increase their creativity in all areas.
When children participate in the arts, their minds, emotions and bodies are all involved in the task of creation. When they mold a sculpture, their mind is busy envisioning the whole image by deciding on individual components of weight, contour, texture, etc. They skillfully interact with materials and tools. Emotion is an important guide as they “feel” whether something is right or wrong about the sculpture and whether or not it is “finished.” Full engagement in a creative project is almost magical; time passes unnoticed and leaves the child with a sense of fulfillment and desire to repeat the experience.
Developing Problem-Solving Skills
Through the arts, children discover there is no single right way to solve a problem, and that each step in the process opens new possibilities. There is only one correct answer to a math problem (and the curriculum dictates the steps to achieve it), but this is not the case in art class. Through art, children learn to accept the unexpected and respond to new opportunities as a work unfolds. Intentions and outcomes can change with fresh circumstances. This spontaneous fluidity of thought is the secret to innovative problem solving.
Through the arts, children realize there are many different ways to perceive and interpret the world. This sense of richness and wide emotional range are at the heart of art’s power to engage us. Children find a freedom in art that nurtures their spirit while helping them discovering personal uniqueness. Participating in art builds confidence and a sense of self: This is my creation, done my way—this is who I am.
Attention to Detail
In making art, children learn to pay attention to details, and discover that small changes add up to important distinctions. Frequently, people perceive in general terms because the details don’t matter to them. But, if we intend to paint a portrait of a person, we will need to closely study every aspect of their appearance. Habitual attention to detail will train your child to notice things others don’t.
In a work of art, meaning is imparted through the relationships it embodies—the relative weights of visual elements, the poetic metaphor, the interplay of choreography and music. Children who participate in the arts learn to interpret and respond to the world beyond the limits of words or numbers. There is no better definition of “thinking outside the box.”
Unlocking Endless Potential
The cumulative effect of arts experiences on children is profound and far reaching. It opens their minds, emotions and spirits to wider possibilities. Creative activities lead children to ask more questions about the world and about themselves. It renders them comfortable with uncertainty and prepares them to respond flexibly to unexpected developments. Unorthodox approaches are not just tolerated—they are encouraged. Young artists’ learn to respect themselves, and others, as unique individuals capable of making a valuable contribution. They become more engaged, more creative, more confident, and more likely to be innovators.
Envision a future in which your children are not merely competent in their chosen field, but bring a creative approach to solving problems, along with the confidence to share ideas with others. Imagine your children embracing a life of spontaneous creativity and experiencing the fulfillment that comes from transforming potential into reality. If you want this for your children, seek out the arts. Look for opportunities for them to develop natural creativity and explore the wide world—within and without.
Susan Glazier is assistant head of school at Westminster School in Annandale, VA. The arts are a central component of the Westminster program, and students are encouraged to weave art into the fabric of daily life for the purpose of discovery, self-expression, confidence-building and life-long enrichment. For more information, visit www.westminsterschool.com.