The decline of ‘flow’

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Katarina Vlasic dropped by to show me a carload of 12″ x 24″ paintings by her 7- and 8-year-old second grade students. Katarina is a popular art teacher who divides her time between two schools. “In this series we studied Marc Chagall,” she said. “The kids loved the strangeness and weirdness. Chagall stimulated their imagination — gave them permission to play.”

Katarina Vlasic with a Honda full of kids’ art.

The paintings were on their way to an exhibition in a public gallery. “At this age, kids have few inhibitions and they’re not so critical,” she said. “With their strong personalities, mistakes become a positive part of the process. Even autistic kids settle right in and concentrate. And shy kids love it because they get a few moments to shine.” I made my standard remarks that the great teachers ought to be knighted. We talked of our mutual interest in the creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who pioneered the concept of “flow.” He defined flow as the ability of some people to get into the groove and be one with their art. Katarina and I compared notes — what I’d observed in adults, and what she knew first hand by working with children. We agreed that creative people may sometimes be hyperactive and that they’re not always turned on. In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot to recharge their batteries. I had visions of art rooms of yore where the only sound was the quiet burble of flow. Recent research has found many creative people to be simultaneously extroverted and introverted, while most humans, according to studies, tend to be one or the other. Both Katarina and I had also noticed that many creative individuals show evidence of both. As the children’s paintings at the bottom of the letter show, pretty well all are what you could call “creative.” It’s my theory that we’re all born creative, but we just have it somehow knocked out of us. The questions are, how do young children so easily fall into “flow,” and why do adults so easily fall out of it? Best regards, Robert PS: “At that age we kind of catch them in a golden period before they lose it.” (Katarina Vlasic) Esoterica: I was once invited to talk and demo before a mixed group of students, some in grade 3 and others in grade 11. After my presentation, the kids went to their own classrooms, where they were asked to bash out a painting in one sitting. Needless to say, the younger kids filled their canvases, used bright colours and pretty well completed their work. The older ones, for the most part, did something or other in the middle of the canvas, were not particularly daring with their colours or compositions, and didn’t finish. After lunch when it was my turn to diplomatically crit all the work, the older ones were sullen with folded arms while the younger ones were whooping it up. I stand by my position on knighthood.   Katarina Vlasic’s Grade Two art class 041613_robert-genn2                   041613_robert-genn3 041613_robert-genn4 041613_robert-genn5 041613_robert-genn6             041613_robert-genn7 041613_robert-genn8 041613_robert-genn9 041613_robert-genn10           The work of seven and eight year olds, before inhibition and peer pressure sets in, shows remarkable imagination and variety.   Appetite for learning by Cathy Stanley, Melbourne, Australia  

pastel painting
by Cathy Stanley

I was reminded of my time as a teacher in a Montessori classroom where it is common to see children making decisions about their work, what work they pursue and when. There is a busy hum as the children explore abstract concepts with concrete materials. They have an appetite for learning and seek work that is increasingly challenging. They work independently or in small groups. There is a vibration of harmony and a love of learning.         There is 1 comment for Appetite for learning by Cathy Stanley
From: Peter Wells Cariboo — Apr 20, 2013

The interesting thing about Montessori is that children, upon entering the room, go to the area where they feel most comfortable. This is the area where they are most likely to thrive.

  Encouraging creativity in school by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada  

“Gaz Metropolitain”
by Richard Gagnon

Our School Board has changed directions in terms of creativity and it is valued. We have looked at other methods for dealing with order. Children who are disruptive usually are very intelligent and are quickly done with the learning and looking for more. We have a one-to-one computer program in our Board and have special assignments for these children when they have completed their given tasks. There is an approach called “Inquiry Based Learning” that is coming on-line and you will hear more about it. Other children are hyper-active and for these, too, we have solutions that are other than drug-based. The ‘Engine Room’ is a special classroom that has been equipped with apparatus that the children can use to burn off their excess energy. Children are encouraged to excuse themselves to go and use the Engine Room as they feel they need it. They return to class when they have burned off what they don’t need. Oddly, children with slow metabolisms also use the Engine Room to get their adrenal going and they become more alert. To put a final note on it, creativity is one of the measures that is on the children’s report card. We feel it is important. There are 4 comments for Encouraging creativity in school by Richard Gagnon
From: Linda Harbison — Apr 19, 2013

I’m glad to hear that schools are trying something other than medication to help kids who find it difficult to function in the traditional classroom. I hope this approach continues!

From: Anonymous — Apr 19, 2013

I believe both puppies and children need serious physical activity daily, lots of it, to be able to learn. I wish there was still as much emphasis placed on P.E. (as it was called when I was a kid) as the other skills. I was no athlete, but being pushed to participate in P.E. really made me more alert and less distracted when it came to the other subjects.

From: Anonymous — Apr 19, 2013

I still have nightmares that I forgot my P.E. outfit at home…

From: Cathy Pascoe — Apr 22, 2013

Sounds like a great concept……just one question. Richard, where is the “Engine Room” located in the school? How does the school make sure that students who are in there are supervised?

  From great abandon to great hesitancy by Marjorie Moeser, Toronto, ON, Canada  

acrylic painting
by Marjorie Moeser

I taught visual art for 10 years in the school system, grades 9 to what was then OAL/grade 13. Upon retiring from the school system, I taught Saturday art classes to two groups of students. One group was 6 – 8 years old; the other group was 9 – 12 years old. In every instance the youngest students painted with great abandon! They were fearless, imaginative and full of bravado. I remember one little six-year-old, so excited about discovering colours underneath the layer of India ink in the exercise known as ‘black magic.’ He turned to me and in total innocence asked, “Where did you ever learn to do this?” Another 7-year-old decided, after my teaching basic colour mixing, to paint her piece all red and then paint black all over the red. On trying to coax her into using colours other than black, she unabashedly shook her head and did it her way! In contrast, the older students, while still inquisitive about what they could do with paints, were less exuberant than the younger ones. These 9- to 12-year-olds were more hesitant, wanting to do what they thought I wanted to see them do. Now, these children were not being graded, but they were more self-conscious about how their efforts would be viewed both by me and by their peers. At the high school level, students, for the most part, are motivated by getting a good grade and to some extent by being better, at the very least, and being as good as their peers. As we age, we seem to lose that innocence that enabled us to be free spirits, to be unafraid to experiment, to be totally excited to see the next mark in the painting. With age comes sophistication guarded with hesitancy, too much logic, and fear of making a mistake. There is 1 comment for From great abandon to great hesitancy by Marjorie Moeser
From: Anonymous — Apr 25, 2013

Frankly, it’s good for your teenager to use logic and not make mistakes…she is entering the adult world where abundance can cause big problems…

  Directed art by Jeanne Roberts, Concord, CA, USA   I taught grades 1 through 3 for 20 years. I was “the art teacher” in our school. Other teachers said they couldn’t teach art because they couldn’t do art. I am the artist that I am, and I always believed that kids are the most inspirational artists there are. My own house has framed work my kids did “for mommy” when they were little, and later, actually when they were not so little. I think that when kids are blessed with a teacher who lets them do art when they are little, their chances are much greater at being able to enjoy doing art, than kids who don’t get that exposure. I did have an art teacher in grade school, and we did have to do the picture exactly like hers ~ now we call that “directed art” ~ but for me it taught me some stuff I didn’t yet know, and I put it to good use later. When in my teaching career, we did art, usually once every week. Sometimes we did “directed art” and I would tell the kids that I was going to teach them something special, and they could use it for their own purposes later on. For example, we learned about Vincent Van Gogh ~ (We learned about a number of famous artists in my room!) and we did our own version of Starry Night… the kids loved it and many parents reported that their child made many more copies at home.   Uninhibited desire to be creative by Rebecca Stebbins, Santa Barbara, CA, USA  

A small group of papier mache pigs created by Rebecca’s students.

I appreciate your comments regarding younger children and their lack of inhibition when it comes to creating art. I teach art to children from kindergarten through 8th grade. One of my goals is to give kids the skills they need to continue creating, to help their abilities keep pace with their vision so they don’t get too frustrated; and to help them hold on to that uninhibited desire to be creative, enjoy the process, and be pleased with the product (without being overly self-critical). It is a joy to experience the process of learning and creating art in the earlier years, but it’s not easy as they get older and lose patience with themselves (and some ultimately give up). So many adults I know have the attitude that you either “have it” or you don’t, and they pass that idea on to the kids, just like “I’m no good at math.” But I firmly believe everyone has the capacity to benefit from art instruction and can learn to be good at art if they choose. I have the good fortune to teach in a small private school that believes in the arts because, here in California, many public schools have little to no arts education at all, and with 30 or more kids in a classroom it’s a challenge at best. It makes me sad for those children, the adults they will become, and our society at large.   Teaching tool to create flow by Loretta West, Spokane,WA, USA  

“Endless Possibilities”
original painting
by Loretta West

I am most interested in “flow.” When I led groups of school children at a local museum, we would do art exercises together. What I found was, as the kids got older, negative self-talk would appear and the all-too-common self-critic appeared and grew. It took enormous effort on my part to contradict these forces. Interestingly, I noticed that this showed up at an earlier age in girls than boys. I believe that eventually these critical voices smash innate creativity. “I can’t” becomes the acceptable phrase and it spreads like wild fire! Fast forward several years to the past year when I had trouble with my own inner critical step sister who wanted so very hard to interrupt my flow. I had a deep personal loss and I was determined that it wouldn’t interrupt the making of my art, but it did. Then one day I was looking at art on the internet trying to get the juices flowing and found this tiny little art form called Zentangle. Completed on 3.5 inch square cards, it looked manageable to me, so I began by creating this art on my front porch looking over the garden at the end of a teaching day. Well, this really helped me to get back in the flow, and now I use it sometimes to warm up or to help me get unstuck, or if I am too wound up. It helped me so much that I learned how to teach it, as not only an art form but as a meditation and life tool. I feel honored to have found a way to teach people how to create flow in their lives, which in turn also helps them to relax and grow. Kudos to your friend, Katarina who is fighting the dark forces of anti-flow in children. It gives me hope for the future. There is 1 comment for Teaching tool to create flow by Loretta West
From: Nancy Wylie — Apr 19, 2013

I vividly remember my 4th through 6th grade art teacher, Mr. Johns, telling us “Can’t never did anything.” He is also the reason I became an art teacher years ago and now a professional artist.

  Open-minded approach by Adrienne Moore, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Encounters 1”
mixed media
by Adrienne Moore

I really enjoyed your letter and sharing with you the paintings of grade two children. It’s awe inspiring and I am sure Marc Chagall would have been proud of these students who have not lost their ability to play. As a teacher for something like thirty five years, spanning age ranges from grade one to upper high school level, I was always surprised by the way the younger children had no inhibitions and always produced their own vision of what they had explored in their short lives. How does perspective change as children mature? I think the older children evaluate art and their peer group by adult standards of what constitutes a good work. By grade seven a lot of the students are becoming so aware of the peer pressure and what constitutes an ability to draw what is popular rock and rap heroes. I was very aware of this particular situation when I brought some of my paintings into my school and watched the reaction of the younger children to abstract pieces. They didn’t judge when asked their favourites, by realism they seem to just go with the flow and they chatted easily, led by their teacher. The older students were not so willing in the discussions, not so sure of the abstract work. I do think that so much of what we teach, as educators, is this approach to painting. Lots of art history enhances the programs. Open-minded approach to all kinds of art and just loving to be, as a teacher, instrumental in passing this information along to students. There is 1 comment for Open-minded approach by Adrienne Moore
From: Rose — Apr 19, 2013

Your picture is such a treat…..I love it.

  Not much fun by Carole W King, Lake Toxaway, NC, USA  

watercolour painting
by Carole W King

Seeing the paintings of the 7-8 year olds makes me think that the very things you teach inhibit my own creativity. People used to tell me they loved my work, and bought it. Then I was widowed and decided I could devote full time to it. I want to become really good — a master at what I do. What I’m discovering from all these workshops, online courses, etc. I can’t be a “good” artist until I’ve mastered grey mixtures from all the various complementaries, perspective drawing, painting different textures, brushwork vs. glazing, color values and temperature… and on and on and on and on and on. What I’m told I must learn, like through your Best of the Best… is downright intimidating! And not much fun. (RG note) Thanks, Carole. A roughly made bench serves the same purpose as an elegant Hepplewhite chair and has its own beauty. But how wonderful that the learned hands of humankind can fabricate something that has real craft and hard-won beauty. “Nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” (Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). There are 2 comments for Not much fun by Carole W King
From: Mike Jorden — Apr 19, 2013

Love your clouds, Carole! To make excellent grays, be sure to use an accurate color wheel like Quiller’s for complementaries. The triad color wheels sold in art stores are biased to the warm tones and give you mostly browns. Good luck!

From: Anonymous — Apr 25, 2013

I remember feeling the same kind of resentment towards people who insisted on all that learning that was ahead of me. But, over the years as you get busy learning, you will forget all about that intimidation, or you will learn to share it in a positiwe way with other fellow artists. Wea are all in it, nobody has been born educated.

  The value of making mistakes by Kristina Maus, Paisley, ON, Canada  

“Warming Shoreline”
acrylic painting
by Kristina Maus

As a recently retired middle school art teacher, I’ve seen many older students inhibited by the fear of mistakes. It was the largest obstacle I faced in the art classroom, building confidence and encouraging an acceptance of failure. The beginning of the fear came usually when the student was told, by someone that they respected, that their artwork was wrong. If the student responded with, “Well, if I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all,” then trouble was on the horizon. As a teacher with a lesson to impart, I worked to be diplomatic and encouraging with the kids, so that a constructive comment was not interpreted as one that was disapproving. Tricky tightrope, but totally doable. Many had to be reintroduced to the playfulness of drawing and painting through experiences that were not assessed and could not be “wrong,” strictly for confidence building. I had to figure out where my students were so that the next step was within their reach. Mistakes are so important. I shared my own mistakes with them frequently (I make many so I had a good selection) in the hope that they would learn that failure is necessary for growth. Most of the success people have comes from hard work and perseverance, which is in everybody’s toolkit. There were many rewarding moments in that art classroom when kids discovered that the process was enjoyable and the product was acceptable and valued. I loved Csikszentmihalyi’s book. He identified that flow, that “in the zone” feeling, comes from setting challenges that are above what we are comfortable with, but not too far above our achievable goals. It’s that step into the unknown that adds excitement to the process. The struggle with new learning makes the achievement more noteworthy. When we break through and “get it,” well, we need to celebrate before going on to the next thing.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The decline of ‘flow’

From: Lalitha — Apr 16, 2013
From: ~DM — Apr 16, 2013
From: Michla — Apr 16, 2013

I met an artist in Wisconsin, who does super realistic paintings of wildlife. Uses an airbrush against canvas, and produces paintings that make you feel you could fluff the feathers on his birds. Perhaps, the most accomplished detail-ist I’ve so far met. It was his opinion that the most important, “the purist art in the world” is what parents put on the refrigerator.

From: Chris Everest — Apr 16, 2013

Inhibited when painting … Beaujolais Nouveau works for me !

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 16, 2013
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Apr 16, 2013

I think that there is a point when language asserts its dominance over feeling. The language brain kicks the feeling brain to the curb. Learning that one can dissemble makes life less painful and raw. But the Art Brain never forgets!

From: Dwight — Apr 16, 2013

Volunteering to show students what I do in art has had the same result: More questions and interest from 4th graders than you can handle and sullen non-interest from high schoolers. I think the difference lies in the high school fear of being uncool (or whatever the current term is), of asking a “stupid” question. I guess I was that way back in the late 1940s too. Being an artist means you work hard to overcome the fear of being uncool.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Apr 16, 2013

Flow can only truly be achieved when we are willing to let go of the outcome and just play.

From: Bob Coleman — Apr 16, 2013
From: Marianne Gallagher — Apr 16, 2013

I’ve recently been helping out with a kids’ after school program and have been amazed at the creativity of five and six year old’s. One of their favorite past times in the art section is decorating rocks—just plain old grey rocks from the side of the road (approx 3″ in diameter). The other day one little girl painted each side of a rock a different colour. Then she carefully pasted sequins on one side and presented me with a blue ribbon to tie around it. It was surprisingly attractive! I’m learning from them.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Apr 16, 2013

It’s interesting how sound are compositions in those paintings. Kids divide canvas into bold and interesting well balanced shapes. Little artists create as if they are an integral part of the story they are painting. But, as they grow up and start seeing the world as a “big picture” they become spectators removed from their object. Adults have lost that intuition to immediately compose a sound piece, so they have to learn it again.

From: Nancy Vandenberg — Apr 16, 2013

You ask what we think happens to children to diminish their creativity? Public education! Parental need to control! Just my opinion.

From: Margaret Bobb — Apr 16, 2013

I have often wondered about myself in regards to sometimes exhibiting extroverted/introverted behavior. Now, I’m sure I’m “normal” haha, whatever THAT is! LOL!

Even though I sometimes want to do complicated paintings, there are times I just like to push the color around and fill up a big canvas…Ahhhhh, what joy!
From: Susan McCrae — Apr 16, 2013

I’ve seen this same phenomenon with my grandsons. I put a paintbrush in their hands as soon as they could sit up and they were wonderfully creative until, regrettably, they hit the school system. Not all art teachers are like Katarina Vlasic, who I kiss the ground in front of, and salute. When my youngest grandson, in grade 3 pleaded with me to go and teach his class art, I asked to see what he was doing. He showed me a sheet with half of the head of a panda/teddy bear on it. The task was to complete the other half of the drawing. As he said “how lame is that!”. Happily, he has a creative encouraging art teacher in Gr. 6 and he’s getting turned on to art again, confirming the power of a teacher like Katarina.

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 16, 2013

I have to assume that when you say the “decline of flow” you are referring to adults and not children. Children are unfettered by thoughts of the “weight of the world” that will eventually envelope them. They are freer to indulge in creative activities with no thought of “excellence” and care little about criticism. It is exactly this kind of thinking that adult artists strive to regain throughout their lifetime. Those who eventually become artists are those who, in my estimation, manage to keep their childlike imagination and enthusiasm while moving into adulthood.

I agree that all of us are born creative. It is also true that this creativity will permeate or morph into other areas unrelated to art. Creativity encompasses many fields and some will embrace “art” while others will use their creativity for mathematics, science or engineering. Being an adult doesn’t have to mean losing your childlike “flow”. For the lucky ones, who are the happier ones, maintaining “flow” is important no matter what field of endeavor they pursue.
From: Bill Hogue — Apr 16, 2013
From: Sharon S. Edwards — Apr 16, 2013

Very interesting to read about creative people alternating between extroversion and introversion. I’ve always been that way, but certainly never connected it with being creative. I consider myself to be an introvert with good social skills. I can be at a social function and feel at ease, talk to anyone about any subject; but then I shift back to my loner self.

From: Tom Hoffmann — Apr 16, 2013

even the most well-intentioned supporters of children’s creativity put limitations on their “flow” without realizing it. Look at the work those third-graders made, every piece is a drawing first, with the outlines clearly emphasized and the spaces all coloured in.

From: Jamie Panych — Apr 16, 2013

Thank you for sharing the artwork of Katarina’s young wonderful students. These are the most wonderful paintings I have seen in a long time, a true testament to Katarina’s abilities of a great teacher! They are so alive, colorful and fresh! I have been dabbling in acrylics for about 20 years, once in a while a good painting comes together. Is there a way to get back that ‘flow’?!

From: Dana — Apr 16, 2013
From: Cindy Mawle — Apr 16, 2013

What affects my creative flow is housework, making dinner, yard work and meetings. Not to mention self doubt and expectations. I am pretty sure I didn’t have any of these to deal with as a child. Other than that though, I am just a child disguised as an adult and try to get away with as much creative space and freedom as my life will allow.

From: samere tansley — Apr 17, 2013

having taught in the UK and Jamaica at primary level (5-11yrs) and (secondary level 11-16)the difference is clear with the younger ones all you can do is give them paint and paper etc to have a great time and express their inner visions at puberty as we know the child begins to look outward at the world and become critical of their own work and that it “doesn’t look like that” etc It’s still possible to teach them to express them selves confidently if you’re a good art teacher.

From: John R. Koehler — Apr 17, 2013

i agree with u ,, as a child i always liked art time,, and many times the teacher would holler at me for day dreaming and being some where ever as i grew older the reality’s of real life came to me ,,, career , family, responsibility, etc etc,,,,,

u description of a person being extrovert and introvert,is the way i am, when i work on a painting i loose my self in time and space..its one of the best things i like about painting…..and i resent some one intruding in….have a great day….
From: Dan Mosheim — Apr 17, 2013

Nice! I was recently blown away by a local show of ‘kid art’ … we have a bunch of really good art teachers in our area.

From: Robin Baratta — Apr 17, 2013

I teach art to Alzheimer’s patients, and I also find Chagall to be inspirational to my clients. The surrealist ‘automatic art’ techniques are all most all a hit with my folks. Interestingly the further advanced the condition the more able they are to find the ‘flow’, and that ability is one of the last things they lose. What a gift it would be if all of humanity could learn to attain flow.

Meditation produces a similar calming affect and some health practitioners are using meditation to supplement medication. Art instead of medication? What a perfect world it would be! Robin
From: Carole Smale — Apr 17, 2013
From: Dianne Harrison — Apr 17, 2013

The state of “flow” is much harder to achieve in in today’s constant input world. Cell phones are never far from our finger tips, every misfire of human interactions anywhere in the world is a “STOP and pay attention now event”, Facebook notifications that someone’s five year old got an award at school are not to be missed. “Flow” is achievable but first we have to create a sanctuary. That is what my studio space is for me.When the sunlight is coming in the windows and a pre-selected favorite piece of music is playing and I forget what time it is and what the name of the objects are in the still life and begin to see a small sliver of colored light along an edge I am almost there.

From: Ellie Clemens — Apr 17, 2013

I don’t think that creativity is knocked out of us by some external force. I think it comes along with growing up and being aware of the opinion of other people, caring about their opinion, worrying about their opinion, about ‘getting things right’. Some people are lucky enough to develop the self confidence, at least while they’re doing their art, to follow their own path and hold onto that innate creativity. Art isn’t a team sport, and it’s easy to feel guilty about ignoring the world while doing art. I also don’t think creativity is that weak a trait that it can be easily knocked out of us. It just resurfaces in different venues. Maybe someone who was creative at painting while a kid might not have been all that interested in painting, and they might now be a creative cook, a creative computer programmer, a creative teacher.

From: Michael Fuerst — Apr 17, 2013

The suggestion that creatives often have multiple personalities is intriguing. I speculate that multiple personalities may be multiple spirits or souls acting through one’s physical body. I have completed several pieces where I was either in “zone” or felt driven by some force or spirit. This zone or force would manifest itself for several days whenever I worked on the piece. Urbana IL

From: Katarina Vlasic — Apr 18, 2013

I am delightfully overwhelmed and in a bit of shock. I have been receiving quite a bit of fan mail. I think that you are quite mischievous!!!!

All the best,
From: Marie Morgan Santa Fe — Apr 18, 2013

You Katarina—your students—made my day! As a painter not quite out of winter sluggishness, I am energized by the work I see in this Genn letter.

Thank you so much for sharing your gifts and energy with these fortunate children.
From: Jamie Panych — Apr 18, 2013

Thank you for sharing the artwork of Katarina’s young wonderful students. These are the most wonderful paintings I have seen in a long time – a testament to Katarina’s abilities of a great teacher! They are so alive – colorful and fresh! I have been dabbling in acrylics for about 20 years – once in a while a good painting comes together. Is there a way to get back that ‘flow’?!

From: Kathy Sheetz — Apr 18, 2013
From: Henry W. G. Pearson — Apr 18, 2013

I agree that it all has to do with the teacher. Young, enthusiastic art teachers like Ms. Vlasic are needed in the system to think through the set up and bring out the best that’s in the little tykes. We owe them no less.

From: SharonWrightArtist — Apr 18, 2013
From: Barbara B. — Apr 18, 2013

Carolyn H. WarmSun

Your work is outstanding! Exactly what warms my heart and sends my spirits soaring. Never stop regardless of how many canvases wait to be recognized. You have a gift. Believe in it always.
From: Mary Jean Mailloux — Apr 19, 2013

I’ve often wished I could go back and start all over without the hangups I’ve carried with me into adulthood. The strict values for perfection and not wasting time inherited from childhood are so very hard to overcome, even from a lifetime of trying. I haven’t given up. The art of my 8 yr old son (now 25) revealed to me an unabashed freedom in portraying his inner story.

From: ondeck — Apr 19, 2013
From: Anon — Apr 19, 2013

This is very interesting. When I got my first A- for a painting I did in first grade, I immediately learned to always paint what I think the teacher wants to see – I wanted all straight A’s. Privately I continued to make art for myself. Now I still have this separation of art for others and art for me, but there is almost no time left to do my own thing. I justify this by believing that my “art for others” is still my own creation that I love, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice to do if I had endless time on my hands. I wonder if this comes from a personality of giving priority to needs of others or weakness of character for needing recognition, or is it just a natural process and eventually I will cook up art that at the same time satisfies me and my collectors. I often have a desire to call it quits and to just make art for myself and make living some other way. The option of fighting to get my personal art accepted by others is a scary thought that I didn’t dare try. Does anyone else has a similar conundrum?

From: Karen R. Phinney — Apr 20, 2013
From: Pedro Scaglione — Apr 20, 2013

I am a busy tweeter. It has made my whole life different, with so many short bytes. Big and long projects are not so much of interest to me anymore. I live a life of briefness.

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Apr 23, 2013

One of my greatest encouragers is a farmwife mother of eight. She took me to her son’s one-room schoolhouse last week and I shared my Spencerian penwork with the kids, including bird flourishes. It was fun for both of us and I hope they are encouraged to do their best also. My friend has my penwork under a plastic tablecloth on her family kitchen table that seats about 12. It is nice way to display work, much like the proverbial refrigerator, only gets more mileage.

From: Michelle Arnold Paine — Apr 23, 2013

I was really interested to read in this letter about the extrovert/introvert tendencies of creative people, and also the need for rest and sleep! I have always felt like an oddball because I need to sleep so much (8-10 hours a night) – but I HAVE to in order to be able to function on a creative level. I’ve noticed this among my artist friends, but haven’t heard artists talk about it very much – we tend to glorify the stay-up-all-night crazy geniuses in our society… I wonder if you have ever shared about this in other letters?

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Winter thaw

watercolour painting by Grey Darden, Valley Head, WV, USA

  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 Anita Slevin of New Jersey, USA, who wrote, “I’d just like to congratulate Ms. Vlasic on her extraordinary teaching skills. Yes, it is true that children at this age are more open to let their creativity flow, but it also takes an exceptional teacher to set the atmosphere and provide the background and inspiration so her students can achieve these wonderful results. These are not copies of Chagall but are inspired by an understanding of his work. Fabulous!” (RG note) Thanks Anita. And thanks also to the over two hundred who wrote to say something similar. Ms. Vlasic received many direct notes as well. Congratulations, Katarina… you’re the tops in what everyone recognizes is a tough job. Several writers mentioned a valuable video on where Sir Ken Robinson talks of creativity in the classroom. “It is 20 minutes well worth watching as he uses humour to get his point across. When children arrive at kindergarten they are at the 95% self-confidence level, but when they leave high school their self-confidence level probably matches their age.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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