Creativity is something I care deeply about and have been investigating in practice for my whole life. Leading up to launching Imagination Sessions I began to talk to adults who consider themselves not creative to see if I could tease out why some people identify with being a “creative person” and some people don’t.

I’m interested in why some people stop thinking of themselves as creative as they grow up since all kids draw, paint, dance, sing… I wonder if focusing on the product more than the process turns some people off when they feel like they can’t produce what they envision.

I had one conversation with a friend, “L”, who considers herself not creative. This is what she said when I asked her why she doesn’t consider herself creative:

L: I guess I would start with “I am not good at art”

M: Do you think that you defined “creative” as being “good at” visual art?

L: Yes, I think so. I can remember being in Grade 3 and we were drawing or doing art and I remember being very dissatisfied with what I had drawn in comparison to others and decided I wasn’t “good” at it and therefore gave up. I have always felt that I struggled with fine motor skills too. I have never taken an art class since Grade 3. I just thought it wasn’t for me….it was for someone else. It brings up that “I am terrible at everything” feeling. It brings up a lot of negative emotions.

M: I wonder if you were given a different medium or situation to express yourself creatively that had less to do with making things look like you imagine and more with playing, if this would have led you down a different path in terms of your relationship to creativity.

L: Perhaps. I dont feel the same way re: dancing or music but visual arts or anything that requires fine motor skills, for sure.
Gross motor skills are a different thing entirely I can swim, ski, skate, run…..anything like that, no hesitation but using my hands….forget it.

M: Whole body expression. Yes.
I feel like it’s a failing of the system that kids who can’t make things look a certain way feel like they aren’t creative. Creativity is not only about how things look.

L: mmmm……isn’t it?

Redefining creativity.

When we associate “creativity” exclusively with “visual art” we disempower people to see themselves as creative people. There is so much more to creativity than fine motor skills and how things look.

Creativity is thinking about things in a different way, offering a new perspective, making connections where there previously weren’t any, testing limits of materials or testing limits of anything, really.

Creativity can unlock confidence in making choices, in exploring new ideas and can strengthen trust in a child’s own voice and vision. Creativity can be a process of discovery, to support curiosity and taking risks.

“Art” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “Works produced by human creative skill and imagination.” but it seems to have a limited definition in education of young children.

Brené Brown (researcher on vulnerability, courage, shame and worthiness) might say that L’s experience gave her a “creativity scar”. Prior to Grade 3, L did not feel limited or defined by her artistic skill level. When she realized that what she was making looked “not as good as” what her peers were making, she developed a creativity scar that followed her into adulthood and became a deeply held belief that she was not a creative person.

What if we thought of “art” as “creative expression” instead, and it would include all the arts, using both fine and gross motor skills and focussing more on the process than the product. Creative expression would also include storytelling. Telling our own stories is key to identity forming and connecting with others.

Sure, developing skills is important once you have found a medium that speaks to you, but more important is giving children positive experiences with being creative and making things that may be ephemeral, like moving their bodies or telling a story.

Exploring creativity helps children make sense of their inner and outer worlds and gives them the confidence to express who they really are. I believe self awareness leads to greater happiness and success in life.

I love doing shadow play with kids during my photo sessions because they get to use their full bodies to make something beautiful. They get to connect with nature by using the sun and their bodies to make moving shapes and they get to be creative, focusing on the process instead of the product.

I document these moments to give children a visual history of being a creative person and to help to anchor memories of who they really are.