The child within us


Dear Artist,

“The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day,” said the British poet John Milton. For many of us, the choice to be creative was made early on, and it had a lot to do with how we interacted with others. Boston College professor of psychology Ellen Winner found a great many similarities in her studies of gifted children — difficulty making friends, scholastic boredom, and social problems. While often unconventional and nonconforming, her subjects seemed to become creative because of the introversion that sprang from teasing or isolation. “The more profound the gift, the more the isolation.” she noted.

Femme à l’amphore, 1947 painted earthenware by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Femme à l’amphore, 1947
painted earthenware
by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Winner determined that creative children begin to look at the world in unique ways. They travel at a different visual and cognitive speed. Some need little sleep and demand a high level of stimulation. Some become creative on many levels. Essentially “outsiders,” they develop personal coping techniques that they carry with them into maturity. Many never recognize the powers they have developed.

There are a dozen or so characteristics of exceptionally creative persons. It’s useful to note some of them and perhaps reflect on one’s own childhood:

Visual perceptions that transcend everyday life
Heightened responses to natural surroundings
Sustained high standards of work ethic
Early presence of mentor(s)
Early formation of personal identity
Tendency to do things in unique ways
Preference to work autonomously
Defiance or suspicion of conventional thinking

Beside having the ability to make connections, think abstractly, and take risks, highly creative folks are also found to be precocious, sensitive, inventive, proactive, authentic, imaginative, curious and childlike.

Chouette, 1957 ceramic plate by Pablo Picasso

Chouette, 1957
painted earthenware
by Pablo Picasso

Here are some thoughts for the highly creative: Unfortunately, in the natural jungle that runs through crib, kindergarten, college, and the great classroom of life, it’s easy for you to get the idea that there’s something wrong with you. There isn’t. No matter what your upbringing, school experience, or the slings and arrows of life itself, you’re just different. And you’re okay. Really okay. Tremendously okay. And you’re not alone.

Best regards,


PS: “I am a child who is getting on.” (Marc Chagall)

Esoterica: The child within us may be the key to all invention and creativity. A schoolyard bully may have done the favor. Or the seed may forever remain a mystery. But recognizing we have the tools to create is the greatest gift and offers the potential for the highest manifestation of humanity. We accept the gift and proliferate with joy and impunity.

Two-Handled Vase with Faun’s Head and an Owl, 1961 painted earthenware 23 × 17 1/2 × 15 inches by Pablo Picasso

Two-Handled Vase with Faun’s Head and an Owl, 1961
painted earthenware 
by Pablo Picasso

This letter was originally published as “The child within us” on March 9, 2007.

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“It takes a very long time to become young.” (Pablo Picasso)






  1. ” precocious, sensitive, inventive, proactive, authentic, imaginative, curious and childlike.” I’d like to think that I am one of the particularly, exceptional, very creative , and tremendously special persons reflected upon by Robert, BUT. After 50 years of working with children, from newborns till young adults, the aforementioned adjectives apply to children. Not special children, but children. And yes, children do differ from one another. Some paint, some dance, some sing, and some are tremendously imaginative, and inventive carpenters, mechanics, cooks, gardeners, and fisherman. Robert, what is very important is that we cherish and nurture all .

    • What a wonderful way to think about it! I love children and go out of my way to teach them about nature and culture and totally agree that these are characteristics of children in general. It seems like many children get much of their openness and creativity drilled out of them, unfortunately. I also know the loneliness that he speaks of when these characteristics stubbornly remain. I still feel it. Although it sounds positive to have these characteristics for life, that feeling of being apart and strange from others can surface now and again.

  2. Like being 3 or 4 years old and given a pencil to draw on the back of the bulletin in church while sitting with your grandma because your parents are both involved the the church music. Thank you, Grandma because 80+ years later I’m still doing it and have made a good living doing it for nearly 60 years…and still love it!
    Therefore, encourage youth.

  3. I do my best work when I’m sitting at my kitchen table doing watercolors with my grandkids, 6 and 3, while babysitting. I’m sure there’s a connection there; the childlike enthusiasm and freedom to create is infectious.

    • Raymond Mosier on

      I have a higher sense of creativity when the grands are here We painted yesterday for the first time in months. One mentioned thirsty brush and I asked where she learned thirsty brush. ” You taught us, remember? ” I didn’t but they sure did. 7 year old minds are traps.

      • I love the explanations when they’ve finished a painting. It’s a dinosaur, or a cat, or Mommy… especially the 3 year old…no matter what it looks like to us.

  4. The child within should always be nurtured as it is what defines us and helps us nurture others’ children within. I taught special needs children for almost 50 years and I am still learning as we all must. As freeing as this may be, it can also be a very lonely road. However, we must never abandon the wonderment of childhood because it allows us to savour the world around us reflected in even the tiniest drop of water or spiderweb touched by frost and a super moon!

  5. For a year or so I drew with my grandson. He was the art director, I drew what he wanted, where he wanted, and he decided what he would draw and where. Mostly having to do with dinosaurs. What a gift! Re: the Picasso quote above, my grandson helped me become a little younger. Such confidence and so little fear with his markers! Now he’s grown up (8) and is besotted with basketball, so I play basketball with him. Also a gift, but of a different kind.

  6. Wisdom is a direct manifestation of experience that children are bereft of, so retaining a certain childlike naivete without burdening oneself with seriousness is a challenge. The next time you strain at validating your work or importance, stop yourself and do a little dance….kiss yourself in the mirror….say something nice to a stranger….face the now of your existence with an ear to ear grin and dip your brush in hot pink!

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Featured Workshop

3rd Annual Art Retreat for Women in San Miguel de Allende
April 5, 2020 to April 11, 2020


Join painter/author Ellie Harold in sunny Mexico for a week of immersion in a facilitated discovery of your deepest and most essential artist self. If you’re feeling blocked, thwarted or simply longing for a more meaningful expression, the retreat is a unique opportunity to focus on your life/art purpose, discover new directions and explore next steps. You’ll enjoy your own room in the charming Casa de la Noche in San Miguel’s Historic Centro district, painting and writing (with materials provided), guided reflections and focused discussion with plenty of time to explore the color and culture of this vibrant art city. Created with the needs of mature women in mind, this retreat focuses on process rather than product and is for both experienced and novice art-makers. Limited to 12. Register by November 30 to receive Early Bird free shuttle. One Discounted Spot Now Open! Click here for a full description, photos and testimonials from past participants. Morning, 1994
Acrylic on canvas
34 x 30 inches
Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Featured Artist

Robert’s technique includes a tradition of strong design with patterns of color and form, with a pervasive sense of personal style. Grand themes are transposed onto small panels and larger canvases in a manner similar to members of the Group of Seven. Most of Robert’s work is in acrylic. He has also done considerable work in oils, watercolour, and silk screen printing.


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