“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.
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.
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.
PS: “I am a child who is getting on.” (Marc Chagall)
“It takes a very long time to become young.” (Pablo Picasso)
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.
Exception to the rule
by Ken Oberste, Little Rock, AR, USA
I must be an exception to the idea that we must be somewhat “different” or an “outsider” to become creative. I was raised in a large loving family with many friends, dated many great girlfriends (in spite of the fact that I don’t think l am very good looking) and as far as I know, I always seemed to “fit in” whether it was when I was in the navy or my three years at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Married the love of my life and raised 6 wonderful kids. Now one may question whether I am really creative. The fact that I have had over 40 years of a successful commercial illustration career may not actually prove it, but for the last 10 or 12 years I’ve been pretty successful with “Fine Art” also.
I realize there will always be exceptions to any rule. Some of my many artist friends DO fit the situation you described and some do not. And I’ll have to admit, some of the MOST creative ones do seem to be kind of odd at times.
by Gregory Packard, Montrose, CO, USA
On the best kind of day we have decided exactly who we are. In reclamation of ourselves we lift our arms high into the air and declare victory over our own self-defeating ways. We are no longer the child afraid to displease his loved ones, his peers, afraid to be and think like someone they are not and of whom they may not approve. We are the child before the child has been molded, shaped. We are a babe again who blossoms bright and bold, who holds himself up high, unabashed — an unfurling rose. We are a rose, a rose still reaching out, a rose — hands held high gathering sunshine.
Hope for us all
by Darrell Baschak, Manitou Beach, SK, Canada
When I reflect back on my childhood it is as if I am looking through a golden haze. I can remember seeing my surroundings in a kind of supernatural manner, objects took on this magical quality that is kind of hard to describe. Clouds had a peaceful, uplifting quality, trees glowed with life energy, water was serene and it goes on and on. Everything was larger than life and had very special properties, and they still do in light of the state of our world that we now live in. I credit my Baba and Dida, who were farm folk, for allowing me to do pretty much anything I wanted to do on their farm during the summers that I spent there, for it was there that my eyes were opened. I suspect that the way I look at my world is quite similar to the way other artists see theirs, so I know that there is hope for all of us. Long live the Child within us!!
Isolation fosters creativity
by Sharon Cory, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
This letter describes my childhood perfectly. After years of feeling like there was something wrong with me, and trying to fit in, I came to realize that I was truly different and that my isolation helped to foster my creativity. I learned a few social skills to ensure that I would have at least a few friends, but generally I enjoy being outside the loop. I get kind of a bird’s eye view of what’s happening, and when I do choose to opt back in, it’s on my terms. Most people come to accept me just as I am, and value me as the “token” artist of the group. There’s a tremendous freedom in being seen as kind of an odd-ball.
by William Butler, USA
In the heredity vs. environment controversy, extreme subjectivity (what you are describing in this letter) seems to be inherited. Look at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation and read about the subjective personality. Your description of “the child within us” is typical of the reactions most subjectives have to their childhood, a childhood of more personal reactions to life and less of a group determined reaction, the cookbook reaction to life. In associative tests to determine subjective personality vs. objective, fully 75% of the population turns out to be objective. A graph of the results shows a bi-modal curve indicating not just that subjectives are a lesser version of the objectives, but that they are, so to say, a separate species. One large group, objectives, very much plugged into each other, working through the group for their identity and with a group ethos, and a smaller minority, the subjectives, wondering why they feel like outsiders and making connections outside of the objective “cookbook” which, for the persistent, might one day become art. And that’s how it feels.
Aptitude in the genes
by Alice Carlston
Many years ago I took several courses with Professor Norman Meier at the University of Iowa. He taught psychology of art, psychology of advertising and other such topics and he worked with Professor Carl Seashore (of the Seashore musical aptitude test) to develop an art aptitude test. I have no idea whether these tests are ever used any more. But Professor Meier’s thesis was that art aptitude, whether ever used or not, was a factor of the genes. He said that his research showed that artists, of whatever variety, usually had artists, designers or craftsmen or women in their background somewhere. It was certainly true in my own family.
Pain and joy of giftedness
by Janis Olivia H.
In addition to teaching all the art classes in my school district, I teach classes for gifted students that focus on creativity, thinking skills, affective development, research skills and communication skills, and do enrichment classes to foster giftedness in K-12 students. I plan to share this letter with my students, both in art classes and in G/T classes and also at the next meeting of area G/T teachers, most of whom, like me, grew up knowing both the pain and joy of being gifted. As far as the social skills, I finally adjusted consciously when I got old enough to understand the dynamics of how people relate to each other. I was so shy around 7th grade however, that I thought other people had to speak to me first, like I had to have their permission to talk to them. This started around 2nd grade. But it really had nothing to do with being gifted or different. My close friends were also gifted or well above average. I don’t believe the shyness or teasing comes first and then the giftedness. The creativity is already there and may cause other kids to tease. Maybe it’s more a vicious cycle than a simple cause and effect situation.
by Gerti Hilfert, Langenfeld, Germany
Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child, Erika J. Chopich’s & Margaret Paul’s Healing your Aloneness and Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents are only three of many brilliant books from which I tried to learn from and find the reason for my “laziness” concerning my own “forgotten” creativity.
Sometimes we need to walk unknown ways, dare to open secret gates and enter dubious emerging rooms. Since I made my own experience with soul and heart healing — a shamanic way (Sandra Ingerman, Michael Harner) — I found out much more about myself, my childhood and inner child than any scholar.
I’m still an outsider which I am proud of. I find it necessary to keep distance from the superficial.
Heeding the ‘inner calling’
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA
I didn’t know it until just now that I still work or not work based on one person’s opinion rather than on the work itself. I imagine this is not an unusual state, but it’s a very painful one. It tells me that I don’t do this work for the love of it, but, I think, in my case, for the sense of mastery. I can now realize that mastery, rather than the love of painting, is my motivation and not pretend it’s anything else. That will take the pressure off thinking that I have this inner calling that needs to be heeded. Sometimes an “inner calling” is merely the ego trying to get a sense of self, in some fashion. I think there is a real inner calling, which is composed of skills and abilities central to one’s individual self (not ego). When one does not consider innate abilities and interests, one doesn’t flow with the job. And when one works using those skills and abilities, their work proceeds much more smoothly (but, of course, not without effort).
In spite of childhood
by Lenny Niles, Lincolnshire, UK
A time Revealed: Governed by poverty and dyslexia which shadowed my early life, I had to learn very quickly that in order to avoid the hurt and the constant torment, inflicted by thoughtless, spiteful people, I should isolate myself from them, so I built a psychological brick wall around me and would let no one in. Throughout my childhood I remained a loner and, in time, I finally convinced myself that I was far cleverer than those around me.
Fortunate for me, I was an extremely gifted child, so much so that my talents gave me a positive advantage over most of my tormenters.
And so it was, while trapped in the bleakness of a stark demanding environment, and at an age when other children are playing with soldiers and dolls, I began to draw. I would sit on the floor for hours with the stub of a pencil and a piece of white paper that I had begged of the local butcher and duplicate wonderful images from my imagination. My perception of things over time became finely tuned While at the same time having to contend with a selfish drunken mother who spent every penny on booze and took practically every penny off me until I was eighteen, I wanted passionately to be a painter or a writer. Yet in spite of it all I attained a reasonable level of accomplishment in writing and painting that was far beyond anything I had expected and all this was achieved without one bit of tuition.
Van Gogh wrote, “Whoever lives sincerely and encounters much trouble and disappointment without being bowed down, is worth more than one who has always sailed before the wind and has only known prosperity.”
by Jim Cowan, New Westminster, BC, Canada
As a child in Scotland I was most often considered “different.” My father had been killed in WW2 and as a result of being then a partial orphan I was allowed in to what was considered a top-end school… George Heriot’s School for boys. At George Heriot’s I was hardly a star. I felt intimidated in the company of rich men’s sons. It was a rugby school and I was a football (soccer) boy. At home I was considered by some as a toffey-nose as a result of attending such a school and torment reached the point of torture when someone pushed lit matches up my nose. In time I learned to look after myself and by the time I joined the air force I had developed a fairly satisfying level of self-assurance. But the wonderful damage had been done, only it took until the arrival of your letter to realise that it was indeed wonderful. As result of the intimidation I did indeed enter a different world. I developed a regard for nature and the natural that made of me an environmentalist long before the term was invented. I soon learned that for some reason sunsets affected me in different ways than they did my peers. I spent a lot of time in Art Galleries.
Now I paint and rejoice in the light. Perhaps, just perhaps, if Donald McPherson had only hit me harder I’d be famous by now.
Not to worry
by Darlene Gray, Regina, SK, Canada
So glad you reminded us that we’re okay, tremendously okay. I know this intellectually, but damn it feels good to hear it/read it. I’ve been wondering and worrying why I don’t have the ability and/or desire to live the “accepted” way. This summer I turn 50. In anticipation of this milestone have I decided that as of that day and forever more I shall never worry about fitting in again, and I will stop apologizing and explaining myself to myself and others. I took up painting and photography in the last couple of years even though it’s the only thing in my life I have truly enjoyed from the bottom of toes. In school, art was the only subject I ever felt, “I get it.” I thought everyone wanted to do art but didn’t because it was too silly. Perhaps I waited this long because not only was my uniqueness criticized, but also most creative expression by anyone was criticized. Music, paintings, writings, performances; anything that pushed the envelope the slightest was ridiculed. Only when I finally decided to paint anyway, have I been painting earnestly for fun and for income. And in doing so somehow I have realized that the people that have been the most critical were so because of their insecurities of themselves. Now I’m sad for them and happy for me!
Help for depression
by Kerri Evonuk
Since I can remember, solitude has wrapped its dark cloak around my soul. As a child I wandered along, eyes averted from other children, afraid of their cruelty only to find happiness in nature. I was an extremely unhappy child in a rural town who tried several attempts on my life, and I dreamed of traveling to far off places. It was an older woman who was to become my mentor and my lifelong adopted grandmother. Needless to say I survived my teenage years with isolation and creating art. I have always felt different and in some ways invisible. I had various codependent relationships with men and all this time I was feeling at odds with the world. I traveled to Europe and painted. This was my most enjoyable time spent with other people I could relate to that were just as passionate about art and at odds with the world also.
Married now, my husband had to drag me back to the States in tears, leaving my comrades behind. A few years after returning home I was ready to delve into the deep! It was the love of my two small children I now had that kept me going. I saw my doctor and it saved my life. I had always been reluctant to go on medication because I was afraid it would affect my personality and my art work, but I am happy to say it did neither. I can say that I never knew how mentally depressed or ill I was until now, though. After seeking the help it is like I have woken up from a really bad dream. Of course I still feel at odds and lonely, but this is something that I can handle now. I am just extremely happy that I have the ability to paint and the joys of each day.
“Time, you beckon. Before you were perfect space, open prairie. Today you are a thread, a drop, a slender light scurrying like a hare towards thickets of concave night.” (Pablo Neruda)
Confronting the child within
by Carl Jacobsen, Buellton, CA, USA
The first time I confronted “the child within” was in the year 1991, as I recall. My wife had found a meditation group near our home, and was enjoying the group so much I decided to join her one evening. To me meditation is all I do, but I never much identified it with the title. My word was “creativity.” The big difference was that creativity put me in charge of my thoughts, where meditation left another in charge. Guess who? I was softly advised along with the others in the dim light of the “Medicine Lodge” to ask any question I might have, aloud or in thought. At the time I was contemplating a large canvas depicting the overwhelming majesty of a section of the Amazon jungle. I thought in terms of time to properly demonstrate its mystery. Could I accomplish such a great undertaking? I thought, and thus asked. Later as the meditation ended and we drove home I felt a great urge to dash out into my studio and do something… It was late, and I thought: not time to do much. About 30 minutes later I had before me a watercolor totally at odds to my thoughts or style. I sat as a small child, happy and content with that I had just painted. I knew as I slowly returned to my body that no one else took part in this painting. No words of the complexities of art, just a happy little hand playing with daddy’s watercolors. The painting was perfect! Expressing my very thoughts, as well as a visual description of the sounds of birds and monkeys. How cleaver I was when I was 8 or 9.
The second meeting was when I happened on the History Channel TV program on ‘Circus Trains,’ a subject that I loved since seeing my first one at age 9. The year 1941, and my Dad took me to the Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey Circus, but blocks from our home. Something caught my eye near the end of the documentary film, “what was that?” I thought. Of course I was taping the show, and so over and over I searched that spot in the film. Finally, THERE IT WAS. Someone had been filming a kid with his hands respectfully holstered in the pants pockets of his “Sunday Best” as he observed the elephants being unloaded from the railroad cars… It was me! I since bought a copy of the show from History Channel. The title is “Circus Trains.” Get your brushes and let’s play!
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Prem Singh of New Delhi, India who wrote, “After painting for more than four decades now, I firmly believe that I am an artist so long as the child within me is alive. Simplicity and spontaneity, joy and playfulness, innocence and honesty are some of the characteristics which I have inherited from the child within me.”
And also Lisa Eades, of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote, “I understand there are Indigo children and also adults. After reading all I found, I am beginning to seriously consider myself an Indigo soul… I like me!”
And also Tanis Laird of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “Thank you for the reminder that my personal slings and arrows, my long and colourful stories of life and childhood are all for good reason… to blossom into the only gifts I own and know.”
And also Janet Keen of Rotorua, New Zealand who wrote, “It wasn’t until I became a full time artist at the age of 27 that I finally felt a success. Everything else I had tried prior to that had me placed in situations where I didn’t fit and where people actually thought I was unintelligent. I now run my own mosaic, painting, teaching and children’s book illustrating business and every day is filled with the joy of following my soul purpose.”
And also Joyce Seevers Benedick of Beloit, KS, USA who wrote, “Although I have never considered myself anything but a student of painting, I am realizing that no one can teach me what I might have to say. I am a student of my own senses.”
And also Randy Sanders of Mesa, AZ, USA who wrote, “About a year ago my 12 year old looked at me and said, ‘Dad? What are you going to be when you grow up?’ I was 54 then, finally made it to 55: ‘When I grow up I want To be a Child!’ ”
And also Meredith Hackler of Invermere, BC, Canada who wrote, “I am an artist, aged 31, and can check off the list given to a tee! I began to realize these things and started exploring them within myself around ten years ago, accepting and loving them deeply one by one again.”
And also Andrew Olscher who wrote, “My friends are beginning to retire. I am still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up! Well, perhaps I won’t give THAT too much thought today! (Andrew Olscher – artist, writer, once an actor and musician, hobby horse rider, sometime computer geek, programmer… blah, blah, blah.) Projected epitaph: ‘Ahhh — at last, a steady gig!’ ”
And also Karen Mattson of Willow, in the USA who wrote, “I have always felt ‘different,’ but after mentioning it to someone in ‘authority’ once, I got a very unusual response! I’m glad to know it’s because I’m creative (and not weird). I have to have more than one project going on at once, or I don’t feel like I’m being productive enough. No one pressures me but myself!!!”
And also Helen Howes of Norfolk, UK who wrote, “It is only in the last few years that I have used the label ‘Artist’ for myself — a sort of healthy permission slip to allow me to skip the sensible classroom of life…”
And also Liz Zimbelman of Salem, OR, USA who wrote, I can’t believe I’ve spent all these years in therapy trying to figure out how to ‘fit in’ and be ‘normal.’ And here you hand me the answer, free of charge! — Forget Normal. Rejoice in your different perspective. Channel your ‘differentness’ into your art.”