Every Child is an Artist

Every Child is an Artist


My mother is an art teacher. I say is, because although she recently retired, she now spends endless hours drawing and painting with her grandkids—my eight-year-old nephew Jamie and three-year-old niece Robyn—in much the same way she did with me, my brother, and my sisters all those years ago. The picture above, Picasso’s Guernica (1937), depicts the bombing of the small Basque village of the same name during the Spanish Civil War. Because my mother is a fan of his work, this painting adorned the wall above the fireplace at home while I was growing up. Picasso once famously said that, “every child is an artist, the problem is to remain one when he grows up.”
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The DFJ Thought Leaders Seminar is a really interesting weekly lecture series on entrepreneurship, featuring well-known entrepreneurs, innovators, and industry leaders. Business consultant & author Tom Kelley, who is globally recognized as an expert on innovation and design thinking, gave a guest lecture on innovation and creativity. In his lecture, Tom referred to the book ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball‘ by Gordon McKenzie. McKenize, originally an artist by trade, chronicles his own professional evolution together with lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius. He talks fondly of children and how he likes to travel to schools, to talk and work with future generations of creative leaders.

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Generally, McKenzie favors meeting individual classes, rather than one giant assembly hall. He’ll start his day with the kindergarteners, working his way up to the sixth graders by the end of the day. In one school, McKenzie noted all the great artwork on the kindergarteners’ walls and asked of them, “Who among you is an artist?” Their hands shot up high in the sky, every one of them an artist, and an enthusiastic one at that. Then, he asked the same of the first graders, and with slightly less enthusiasm, all the hands went up. Then, with the second graders, slightly fewer hands went up, and less again with the third graders. By the time McKenzie got to the sixth graders, only two hands went up, both looking around nervously to see if they were being judged.

Draw your own conclusions, but it seems pretty evident—and it is what Picasso also referred to—that as we get older, circumstances conspire against us. Life seems to get in the way and chip away at our creative energies.

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The good news, according to Kelley, is that if you’re willing to work at it, you can fight those forces and stay young at heart. When Kelley’s Japanese wife moved with him to America and felt the need to yell at him, she would say, “You are like a child.” Most likely, she meant it as a criticism, but he took it as a compliment. “It’s different from being childish. That has negative connotations and implies being selfish almost,” he says, “but to be childlike is something different, and great.” This forms the basis for one of his favorite pieces of advice: if you want to be creative and innovative, it’s simple—just be childlike.