How Art Makes Everything Better (So Please Make More Art)
When I was maybe thirteen years old, my mom signed me up for art classes. These were three hour-long studio sessions with a real, seasoned artist who would coach us through various techniques using paint, charcoal, ink, and graphite.
Every Saturday morning, Mom would drop me off. And every Saturday afternoon, I would be frustrated. That class lasted all summer long and by the end of it, I didn’t like art anymore.
When I was younger I used to copy cartoon drawings of Garfield the car and keep them in a large sketchbook I got every Christmas. I even made my own comic book and used the twisty ties from a bag of bread to bind the pages together. I thought I might want to be an artist some day.
But then I took that class.
It’s not that I think art classes are bad. But all those rules discouraged me. Maybe it was my own laziness or lack of motivation, but after that class, I stopped trying to be an artist.
Instead, I picked up playing the guitar, which I played for several years before moving to another medium: writing.
Are you seeing a theme here?
My whole life, I’ve done creative things but never been great at any discipline. Contrast that with my maternal grandfather who was a respected journalist, accomplished pianist, and original artist, and you’ve got a pretty big embarrassment for a grandson.
But maybe that’s not the way he would see it.
I used to think that being creative meant you had to be good at painting or music or writing. But I tried those things and never was great at any of them. Then, I became an entrepreneur after working for seven years as a nonprofit marketing director. And I was amazed at how much my various attempts at being creative had trained me for a career in business.
I liked business because anyone could do it. You didn’t have to go to school or be that good at spelling. You didn’t have to look good or impress people. You just had to produce results. And as strange as it sounds, that felt a lot like art to me. You just had to make something. Turns out, that’s what I’ve always loved doing.
So I quit my job and started a business. And with that little business I’ve been able to support myself and my family. And I get to do my creative work without worrying about whether it will pay the bills.
Recently, I thought back to a class I took in seventh grade, a few months before I took that art class. It was the first hour of the day — home room. And our teacher, Mrs. Frankl, who was also the art teacher, would have us students rotate every day, taking turns to share the news with the rest of the class.
Here’s how it worked.
The night before, you would watch the news, take notes on the major events and weather, and then share that report the next morning in class. It was an attempt to raise good news watching citizens, I guess.
But I didn’t see it that way.
It was around this time that I started getting into theater. The year before, I was a narrator in a rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk and before that I played the part of Alligator in Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie. I wasn’t that great at acting, but having grown up in a loud and vocal household, I knew how to project my voice.
All that to say, when Mrs. Frankl asked me to read the news, I saw it as a performance.
So when it was my turn to read the news, I got my dad’s video camera, put on one of his ties, slicked my hair back, and gave the performance of a lifetime.
The next day, my teacher and friends were taken aback when instead of reading a piece of paper, I pulled out a VHS. and popped it into the VCR.
It was fun to perform the news. And each time I tried to do something new. One time, I used a rather “abstract” drawing from my toddler sister and pretended it was a weather map. Another time I played multiple characters. Each and every time, it was new. And that’s what I loved.
An interesting thing happened, though. When a student was sick or on vacation or just plain forgot to read the news, Mrs. Frankl would ask me to do the news. And before long, I was doing it several times a week. Gradually, over time, I wasn’t the only one performing the news. Other students picked up on the idea and did their own version, sometimes better and funnier than I had done.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mrs. Frankl kept calling on me to perform the news because she saw something in me that I didn’t yet recognize. She saw a gift. And that gift set into motion a new standard for telling the news which was better than the previous one.
This is what creativity does. With a force of its own it gives other people permission to be creative too. That’s why they call it a gift.
When we use the word creativity, most of us think of the arts. Like I said, though, I was never very good at those things.
But creativity? The ability to make something out of nothing? To exceed people’s expectations? I always loved doing that.
We are all creative. Because we are all making things. And if we choose to see the work we do as a creative act, as art, then we can make everything we do better.
That spark Mrs. Frankl gave me was almost extinguished by that art professor. And it took me a long time — 20 years — to learn that creativity is not just a painting or a song or a book. It’s about making everything better.
It’s not just the technique that makes an artist. It’s the ability to do something new and original, that defies the rules and sets a new standard.
And we creative people have been given a bad rap. Creativity itself has, as well. People see what we do as supplementary, a nice frill.
But I don’t see it that way.
Creative work is essential to the world we live in and more importantly the world we might one day have.
So please do your work. Make more art. Maybe it will make something better.
This was part of a 30-day challenge to write something new every day. Learn more here.