Losing — and Finding — Your Artistic Innocence

My kiddo was 2-and-a-half the first time she heard the dangerous idea that art can be good or bad.

Chill, it’s just orange juice.

One of her grandparents read the book Giraffes Can’t Dance to her. The premise is Gerald, a clumsy giraffe, dances, and all the other animals laugh, “Because when it came to dancing, he was really very bad.”

By the end of the book, Gerald learns new moves, goes in front of the crowd again, and this time they approve:

“Gerald’s the best dancer that we’ve ever, ever seen!”

This book has an admirable aim, to reassure kids that it’s okay to be different, that we can all create; we just have to find the way that works for us.

But for my kid, not yet accustomed to judgment and self-doubt, it took something that she did because it felt good — dancing — and commodified it, told her she could be good at it or bad at it, and that other people would be the judge of that.

We grown-ups take this for granted, but this was a novel idea to her.

Until this moment, the only messages she’d gotten around dance had been, “I love to dance with you,” and, “It feels so good to dance, doesn’t it?”

Now dance was a performance we did for approval.

I mourned her loss of artistic innocence, the start of her awareness of a judgmental world.

My kid at 26 months — pure artistic expression

Why do we create?

Is it for the praise? For (the hope of) money? Or because our body is telling us to?

I feel a drive to write. Completing a piece gives me a sense of release and accomplishment totally separated from anyone else’s opinions about me.

I went to journalism school and did a lot of non-fiction writing in my teens and early 20s. I learned best practices to write for an audience, all the while feeling the closer I examined the idea of the audience, the worse my writing got.

After graduation, it only took a couple rejection letters to scare me off of writing for an audience altogether. I knew I loved writing, but I feared the world was telling me I wasn’t good enough.

Still, I journaled. For a decade, I showed my journals to no one; I rarely even looked back at them myself.

This part of me, this “write like no one is watching” part, is wonderfully left over from my childhood.

Now that I’m publishing my writing again, I want to hold on to this fearless creativity.

It’s the same beautiful expression I see in my child. (Yes, one children’s book wasn’t enough to totally steal her artistic innocence.) She loves to draw and build and sing and dance, (mostly) not for approval, but because creating feels good.

We all have that little person inside of us, blissfully unaware of others’ opinions, or even the concept of good or bad.

People talk about knowing your audience, or picking one person and writing for them. But as for me, I want to write like a child: joyful, confident and alive with creation.