Were you encouraged to create?

I was visiting my friends Chris and Sameen last night and the topic of creativity in our younger years came up. This prompted a great discussion about how much we were encouraged as kids to nurture our creative side, whether that was through art classes, school projects, extracurricular activities or whatever we had access to.

It’s very unfortunate that we live in a time where it seems art and music are the first areas that are cut when budgets come down, resulting in fewer creative access points for kids growing up. I graduated from high school in 1995, so I’m a little bit foggy on what exactly is happening in the creative world that encourages kids in elementary, junior high and high schools to keep drawing or painting.

Personally, in elementary school we had an almost weekly art class where we could draw or use the schools’ supplies to make things, which was all kinds of fun. In junior high I had access to a music class, and a monthly art club . . . not exactly an environment that endorsed creative exploration. Then once I reached high school, there was nothing. No music class, no art class or club, just a lot of Friday nights sitting at my drawing table doodling pictures of Superman.

That being said, readers, I’d like to open the floor to you. I know the age ranges and geography of people who read the blog are quite varied, so I would like to pose you a question. Before you entered into any college or anything, were you encouraged to create when you were going through school? Did you have classes available? Were teachers understanding? Did you have friends who were into art as well?

Tell us your story.

20 Comments

  1. I’m a bit weird I think with regards creative type stuff… we had the usual arts/crafts/woodwork etc type classes but they didn’t really interest me, think mainly cause I was absolutely useless at them tending to be better/preferring the technical stuff like maths/IT. My creative side sort of started poking it’s head out round college when I had to redo a year cause I found out I could make pretty plasma effects in Pascal…

  2. Yeah, actually. Surprisingly so since I went to a public school system in a somewhat rural part of Ohio.

    When I was in grade school there was just art class which everyone took. Those were fun though, they assignments were loose and you could just rock out. The teachers were pretty happy that you were just making stuff.

    In high school we actually had a lot of classes. There were Art 1-4, that were progressively more advanced survey classes, we also had silkscreen, drawing and ceramics classes; at least two of each. We even had two whole art teachers. In those later classes they expected you to pick up on some actual technique, but the subject matter was still totally up to you.

  3. I have always taken “art classes,” whether they be at summer camps, elementary school, etc. I was really encouraged by my parents to pursue art (in my down time, as a hobby)

    Elementary school had ‘advanced’ art classes for students actually serious about sitting down and making something for an hour, and high school offered more of a variety of courses. As an aspiring genetic engineer, my course-load was interesting to say the least.

    I have been encourage in creative studies to a point. After a that point, it was up to me to decide if I wanted to pursue a creative lifestyle regardless of outside opinions.

  4. I remember that in the fourth grade, we had an art period scheduled as a reward for good behaviour. But because it was so much work for the teacher to set up, plan and put away it was often taken away for the smallest infraction.

    In high school I had one visual arts option. After I switched to another high school with a reputation for the arts, I had classes in visual arts, dramatic arts, creative writing as well as art clubs, and musicals the school produced. So I think it depends on the individual institution.

    Shout out to O’Gorman High in Timmins for the killer arts program, xo xo

  5. i was in an art class my first 6 years in school. then i just got two hours every week… the teachers there were not really supportive. if they don´t like your style and you don´t want to draw in their style you just got bad grades. that sucked and i always argued with my teachers. but i always had to will to be creative on my own without teachers … they sucked anyways..

  6. Great post! This is an excellent, and sad, point to discuss.

    During High School years I had zero access to creative activities in school. I did extracurricular guitar classes, but that had nothing to do with school.
    Before high school I had one art class once a week and that was it. Nothing else. I really hated most of my high school classes. Chemistry, biology, physics, algebra… couldn’t see the point of all that back then and still can’t see why I had to study that (“now you have a better logical mind”. So??? That didn’t made me a bit more creative).

    The ugly truth is: we are trained to be doctors, lawyers and engineers. Or to be business people. Working with something related to this kind of activity = success. Art, music = lazy people that don’t want to study.
    Bear in mind that I live in Brazil, so things might be a little different than other countries.

    If your parents aren’t supportive (mine put me in piano classes when I was young, but I were not encouraged to be a musician) then you better be lucky, because school will transform you into something ‘useful’ and artists/musicians certainly are not that, according to our current society. Which is a shame… I bet people love to see movies and buy CDs from their favorite artists. Maybe they think this kind of stuff is created by a machine programmed to make films and music in a factory without human intervention!

    I recommend reading the interview with Alex Avarez in the Gnomon Workshop website ( http://www.thegnomonworkshop.com/news/2010/05/interview-with-alex-alvarez/ ), there’s lots of insights about this topic in that interview.

  7. I was rather lucky because all throughout middle school and high school I had access to different creative classes. Which included not just drawing and painting but jewelry making and pottery. I was able to substitute art classes for foreign language classes which was great but in retrospect I should of taken a few of those as well. Not only during school but also outside I was able to live a very creative life. I remember spending a lot of time with friends drawing crazy doodles, working on starting a small zine and even starting a band and releasing our own album.

    It’s disappointing to see these creative areas disappointing from school and I would hope that parents are able to support and encourage creativity at home. I know I will when the time comes.

  8. Hi James,

    I´m from Rio de Janeiro , Brazil. I studied in 3 different schools and I´m glad to say that in all of them I had art and music classes. The only negative point was in the last year of high school when the art class became more technical and the music class stoped because we have to focus on study to pass in the Colleges Exams. ( Here we are not accepted by our high school grades.)

    I also joined with 3 friends a group and we created a comic book. We spent a lot of afternoons at libraries, drawing and learning but unfortunately that was never published .

    []s,
    Rodrigo.

  9. Matthew Marshall

    Time for a backyard perspective, as I went to school in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

    In elementary school, we did have a music class once a week if I remember correctly. Though from what I remember I didn’t really like it thanks to embarrassing roles in the school concerts (the gingerbread man, a candy cane, etc.) and classroom renditions of “My Heart Will Go On” and “I Can See Clearly Now”.

    In Junior high there was a band program, and thanks to a lucky break (Maternity leave), I was blessed with a great music teacher. I can remember one snowy day in grade 7 when I was the only one to show up for class, and she gladly helped me where I needed it, and also taught my blues scales, something which I don’t even think they teach in school at all. Also, I think the school I attended offered art class as a replacement for woodworking the year after I left.

    I was also fortunate to have access to a few different art classes in high school, and students were required to take 2 different art classes in in the three years of high school. Both drama and illustration were far off my radar at this point, I continued on with the band program.

    So I did (thankfully) have access to art classes, though I think I was more required to create rather than encouraged to, save for my grade 7 band teacher.

  10. Pre school and my home gave me a million opportunities to write, draw, color, collage, paint, cut paper, use legos, lincoln logs, playdough, and everything in between. I was always encouraged to have fun, create, be a kid, whatever mad me happy.

    I had a very creative and just overall awesome art teacher in elementary school. He was incredibly encouraging and never criticized our work. He just wanted us to have fun and be kids, make something cool. He thought everyone’s work was awesome, and it was.

    In middle school I had a shop class that had a teacher who was somewhat serious but really respectful and would help anyone get the job done. He wanted us to succeed and would do anything to help. Not much of an art program but art was embedded in many of the classes from cooking to coloring, drawing, music, and computer software.

    In high school I took multiple photography courses, graphic design, studio art, drawing, printmaking, video production, an independent art study. There were at least 5 teachers who specialized in creativity at our school. In addition, all of my honors courses were incredibly creative and incorporated the option to use creative thinking and projects for presentations and group projects.

    This of course continued into college advising, etc.

    My public school system really fostered art. I don’t know where it stands nowadays but I owe a lot to my teachers for introducing me to so much. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to contact someone and see if I can give back.

  11. Very cool post!

    I grew up in a somewhat smaller area in Alberta, Canada, about 12,000 people. In elementary, it was basically a general arts and crafts class that everyone took throughout the year, but in junior high and high school, we were lucky to have a wide variety of creative classes to choose from as options. Woodworking, drafting, band class, sewing class (hated it), and of course art class.

    My art class was great though, because there were specific levels for each grade, and the teachers would actually try and instruct you on things, as opposed to just letting you run wild. My art classes in high school were especially fun, because we had to create projects in a variety of forms; one would be a drawing, the next an oil painting, the next a clay creation, etc. As well, my high school art teacher was a total hippie, and would get real *deep* with us, encouraging us to look past the simple lines of colours of what we were creating, and focus on getting our emotions out. I think that was very beneficial to me.

  12. I can’t remember too far back, but I remember always having art class in elementary school… which was by far my favorite. Not sure how many times a week we had it, but I most definitely looked forward to it every time. We also had a lot of projects (usually science) where we had to make 3D displays (in boxes and stuff). I still remember one I made in grade 3 that was one of the best in class and I got an award for it…. :p We always had music class as well (which I hated, but because of the teacher)… but I guess if you’re the type who creates music, you would have liked it.

    Then in Junior High, we has a visual art class in both 7th and 8th grade, computer class (making a form of art on the computer… weeooo, more animation stuff though, as well as probably typing…), and band (which I hated? Obviously I hate making music). Visual art was again, my favorite class, although the teacher was a hard client to impress… We had a project in 7th grade where we had to draw an entire 3D city, and the same in 8th grade but a house. Those were the only homework assignments I actually cared about for 2 years. I think throughout Junior High I also discovered my ability to write neat and make “nice” things like posters and project covers…

    High school diminished most creativity. It was a tough time to “find myself,” as it is for most. We did have art class, but for some reason I didn’t take it. It was more about painting and things which never interested me (I regret not taking it now). We had some electives available at my school though, so we took a variety of freshman electives for short periods (drafting, cosmetology, wood working, computers, graphic arts, welding). Drafting, graphic arts, and computers were fun, especially the drawing part of drafting and the website making of computers. In grade 10 we had more choices and I took a whole semester of graphic arts (screen printing and old film photography) …which I actually wasn’t so great at, other than taking some creative photos with an old camera. Then in grade 11 and 12, graphic arts was no longer available, so I took a video editing class which replaced that (graphic arts was a pre-req). I’m not a video editor though, especially trying to learn a complex program (final cut). We had fun, though… especially making music videos with my friends.

    And then of course, through out high school, I continued to impress people with my natural ability to have good typography on essays and project covers and posters. ;) All through my school years actually, if there was a poster to be made for a project, it was probably my favorite part. If it was a group project, you’d better believe I did most of it or had a strong opinion in it.

    My parents were always pretty encouraging of my artistic side, as well. I’d draw in my room for hours by myself (who knows what), make posters for any lemonade stand or garage sale or anything, and whatever else. I also remember making posters and banners on a really old computer program we used to have and using up most of the ink cartridge to print them out. Good times… =) My mom (and sister) actually found the college/degree for me to go to because they figured I’d probably be good at it.

    WOW. I did not think this would be so long… and I probably forgot to mention some things. I guess I had a huge variety of art experience growing up… always good.

  13. I was home schooled and my mom is an artist herself, so I was given quite a bit of encouragement throughout school in traditional art and my dad works with computers, so he was excited to help me get into digital art.

  14. We didn’t have any specific art classes in elementary school. It was just kind of mixed into various projects. I drew a lot, and got in trouble for it (I was the bored gifted kid) but the very same teachers told me that I should keep up drawing, just not while they were teaching.

    Middle school had an art class and an art club which was ok. I left near the end of the year and went to a private K-12 school that had a lot of art classes.

    Then I went to a private high school and had art classes each semester. Our teacher was hired right before my freshman year. Apparently the previously teacher was kind of crappy. My teacher instituted the first honors and AP classes. My class was her testbed. Art 1 & 2 or music was the first year requirement. After the first year, additional classes were elective. I believe it’s the same in the public school system here.

  15. I went to a private school in Chicago for 9 years, and art was the last thing that was encouraged.

    I remember being in grades 1 through 8 and just filling notebook after notebook with all my favorite comic and cartoon characters. However, even though I had all A’s and B’s, my teachers felt that my doodling was “unproductive” and “disruptive”. Go figure….

    We didn’t have any art classes at all at that school. And after awhile, I stopped drawing all my cartoons and characters because I kept getting reprimanded for it.

    It wasn’t until half-way through my college career that I got back into it! It was 3am in the 24hr center of my school, where I was studying for Adv. Physics and Differential Equations exams, that I had enough. I wasn’t happy. So, I closed my book, went home, and dropped all my courses the next day. I left the office and walked straight into the Art Department building.

    I sometimes wonder how many years I wasted not doing what I loved, because it was so looked down upon when I was younger….

  16. I just always loved drawing and it never occurred to me until later as a kid that other people didn’t do it as often. I was lucky to have a creative older sister and brother to look up to but not incredibly lucky at school.

    The art program in my elementary/middle school was pretty average and the teachers were always happy with my work but I never felt very encouraged to that extra step. In High School the program was definitely sub-par, one of the three art teachers was really worth having class with and I only had him once in my four years there. No one understood what digital media and with my school’s lack of funds there was no way I would get exposure to Adobe or 3D modeling until college so I just kept sketching.

    Thankfully, sketching is suuuuuper important for industrial design so it would appear that my schools’ lack of being good at anything specific helped me polish one of the most important skills for my major. I’d love to come back someday though and just catch a glimpse of some kids using illustrator or something in a computer lab with a teach who seemed competent on the topic.

  17. I graduated high school in 2001 and the only thing artistic I did there was theater class. Art was an option but I went with theater instead. In middle school we had an art class but music wasn’t available because it was a small and poor catholic school. In elementary school we had art and music and it almost seems like we went to those classes everyday.

    My mother is an elementary school art teacher currently and is in fear that she might be let go at any time. A few years ago they took away her art room and she had to put all her supplies in a closet in the music room. Then they gave her a spare room in the back of the school with no heat. Winters in Rhode Island are cold and here she is wearing a fur coat because she has to sit in a freezing room all day and the kids are sitting there in t-shirts because their own teachers don’t think to have them put on their coats to go to art class. It’s a mess and it’s sad. Kids need art. They need that creative release.

  18. james (Author)

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write such wonderful stories, everyone. It’s really interesting to see so many different facilities you had access to growing up, and how that helped shape your creativity later on.

    This post was conceived out of the notion that there isn’t enough access to classes, clubs and so on for kids to really grab hold of, but it’s obvious from many of the comments here that I was wrong. I’m really happy to see so many of you could learn about art at such a young age, and appreciate it later.

  19. James, over the weekend I was skimming through some Ted Talks and came across this great talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Do schools kill creativity? I am not sure if you have seen this talk before, but feel that it is very relevant to this post.

    Sir Ken Robinson’s talk is very interesting, informative, humorous and discusses the reasons why we need the arts in our educational system.

    Link: http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDtalksDirector#p/search/9/iG9CE55wbtY

    Chris

  20. Hi James, great question.
    Here in Russia, back in 90′s we didn’t have any art classes at school, and as for music, yes there was a music lessons, but all that we did there was signin a soviet communists songs of world war II or something. It was not so encouraging. But at the same time limitations give you a good push. Becuase when you don’t have something you starting to make it by your own. Sorry for my english, I don’t know how to say it.

Leave a Reply