The Dangerous Idea That Art Can Be Good or Bad
My daughter was 2-and-a-half when she lost her artistic innocence.
My kid was practically still in diapers when one of her grandparents read her Giraffes Can’t Dance. This wildly popular children’s book centers on Gerald, a clumsy giraffe. He loves to dance, but when he dances, 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 it’s okay to be different, and that we can all create; we just have to find the way that works for us. And for older kids, who are already dealing with insecurities or bullying, this book might be helpful.
But for my kid, not yet accustomed to judgment and self-doubt, it took something she did because it felt good — dancing — and commodified it, told her she could be good at it or bad at it, and 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 people did for approval.
Now she began to notice that I sure did take my phone out to film her a lot. She narrowed her eyes at me, noticed me in a new way, and she told me to stop taking pictures.
I mourned her loss of artistic innocence, the start of her awareness of a judgmental world.
Like all of us, she will have to struggle, all her life, to figure out where she ends and the rest of the world begins.
What comes from within, and what comes from without?
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 separate from anyone else’s opinions about me.
I went to journalism school and did a lot of nonfiction 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.