Everyone Was an Artist in Kindergarten

Creativity is contingent on willingness to be judged. At some point, many people lose that.
"Fillette aux nattes et au chapeau vert"
Pablo Picasso, 1956
(Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology/Flickr)

ASPEN, Colo.—Tom Kelley is an innovation consultant. He is also the author of a recent best-selling book on creativity. So when Kelley told his audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival—hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic—today to think back to kindergarten in order to understand how to harness creativity, they thought back to kindergarten.

(I thought about the couple things I remember from kindergarten, but I don't really have enough contiguous memories to just hang out in them. So I imagined what other people's kindergartens were like, which killed the time. Boy, some nice kindergartens.)

Kelley explained that his creativity-consultant predecessor Gordon MacKenzie—who was something of a legend in the world of greeting-card writing at Hallmark in the 1980s, where he operated as the company's Creative Paradox, a title he created—used to go around and speak at schools. He would ask each grade to raise their hands, "Any artists here?"

And in kindergarten, everybody was an artist. Not just an artist, but a two-hands artist: "Me! Me! Me! I'm an artist!"

By the first grade, it was still 100 percent, but it was with one hand. Then it progressed. When MacKenzie talked to the sixth-graders, he would get two or three people raising their hands, nervously looking around like everyone was going to think they were weird.

He reassured them it was okay to be an artist.

"A lot of this starts happening in the fourth grade," Kelley said. "That's a pretty pivotal moment in terms of identifying as creative."

It's not just a fear of failure, Kelley said. It's a fear of being judged. Creativity is as much about the ability to come up with ideas as it is about the courage to act on those ideas. He calls it creative confidence (and called his fraternally co-authored book the same). Everyone is innately creative, it posits; creators are just people who act. And, of course, they don't always succeed.

Kelley suggested the line of thought, "I'm not gonna be perfect, but I'm gonna try stuff." If you like that as an actual mantra, maybe next time you're on the fence about something, say it aloud. Or whisper it repeatedly, always. 

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In