Our society doesn’t really appreciate creative people unless they are the rare few who make it to super-stardom and lots of money. Liberal Arts degrees in things like music, fine arts, and English are looked down on compared to the hard sciences and money-making degrees. That attitude trickles down to our kids: do we encourage math and science more than art and music? Yes, we do. Most of us, at least.
Art is seen as a kind of playtime for big kids. Music is seen as a means to an end – math. And something like theatre or writing poetry? A hobby, nothing more. That’s a brutally realistic viewpoint that hurts all kids, not just gifted.
We don’t realize how much creativity affects our world and makes it brighter. I fully believe that our society needs to change that viewpoint and celebrate the makers. The artists. The writers and poets and dancers and musicians who bring beauty and truth to our lives. Sure, we need bankers and doctors, but we need balance. No one wants to live in a sterile world devoid of beauty and grace.
I am a creative. I always have been – in fact, sometimes it feels like a dam threatening to burst if I don’t find some sort of creative outlet. Creativity is an integral part of who am I and what I do. I’m often baffled by people who tell me “I’m not creative at all,” while actually doing something that requires creativity. They’re creative, but they don’t think of it that way. They view themselves as deficient and they’re not!
I don’t think my parents really knew what to do with me. Sure, they did the obvious things like start me on music lessons (piano and violin) and they encouraged me, but they didn’t really know how to go further than that. They tried – but they didn’t allow me the opportunities to try different things, different creative paths. Mostly because they didn’t know how, or didn’t know what. I was like an alien to them sometimes.
What if you’re not a creative but your child is?
I understand – somewhat – how parents feel when they have a gifted, creative child but don’t quite know what to do with them. And I’d like to share a few ways that you can support your child even when you don’t know what you’re doing. Think of yourself as a tour guide: check out these stops, and if you’re interested we’ll disembark and delve deeper. That’s a pretty good way to deal with most gifted kids, because they’re going to go deeper and broader than you want to in most of their interests!
1. Figure out their interests
Before you even dive off the deep end, follow their interests. Let them guide you. If your child is already enamored with ballet, then broaden that and share different styles of dance. Give them a wide range of experiences. Think way outside of the box, and compare dance to ice skating or synchronized swimming. Find things that translate – that are similar, use the same techniques, but are different.
I’m not saying to ditch everything else in favor of what they like, but certainly know what they like.
2. Find them a mentor
You might not know much about oil painting or photography techniques, so find them someone who is. Finding a mentor is a good idea anyway, but finding them a mentor in their field of passion is critical to them feeling accepted and understood. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a good one who helps guide your child and pushes them to grow beyond their passion.
A great example of that is finding a mentor for a kid who loves manga. Manga is really cool, but an artist who can only draw in the manga style is a one-note wonder. So if your child’s mentor can take that interest in manga and help them translate it to anime, for example, or broaden that to comics in general, that’s helping them to grow and learn. Bonus points for mentors who can convince a kid to go beyond manga into different styles of drawing.
3. Help your child become an expert in their passion
Sometimes that means signing them up for classes. Sometimes that means lots of research and experimentation. Sometimes that means being dragged on long road trips to go see a museum full of art that they’re enthused about. Whatever it is, once they find their passion, help them fan the flames.
If you’re not an art person, it can be really hard to get excited about visiting a museum of fine art. If you hate theatre, it can be super boring to sit through rehearsals. That’s ok. That’s part of being a parent.
Your child doesn’t expect you to be as excited about it as they are, but they do crave your support. If your kid loves it and you treat their passion like it’s important, that’s telling them that THEY are important to you. Going to that violin recital has far more weight than you might imagine.
4. Help them find their tribe
A friend mentioned something that she’s doing with her daughter who is a creative writer. She found a local writers group and her daughter was able to join in despite her age. That is huge. That is critical. That is support, critique, acceptance, and challenge all rolled into one group of people.
Sometimes they can find their tribe in a group of peers with the same interests. Another friend’s child is doing a group project of creating a screenplay. A complete screenplay, with a musical score and everything. An ambitious and interesting project with all sorts of real-life benefits.
5. Broaden their horizons
You’re probably already doing 1-4, right? So how about some practical advice? What do you do if you are not a creative person and you want to expose your creative child to various outlets?
Go visit fun art installations. Check out live bands in different genres like jazz or bluegrass. Go to a pottery class and get muddy with them. Visit a mural and discuss how it was made. Watch videos of amazing, cool, and interesting art. Go see performance art – kid friendly, of course! Break out the art supplies and create with them. Cover a wall in your house with paper and go to town making your own mural.
Add a good art curriculum to your schoolwork and don’t focus on the technical stuff yet. Have fun! Because art is supposed to be fun. Some of it, anyway. Too many art curriculums focus on learning about the old masters or doing a technique just right when really, they should focus on exposing kids to new, interesting things.
And most importantly, be aware of the art and design in your daily life. Point out the tear-jerker commercials that make you feel something. Notice the movie posters that use subtle, innovative design to grab your attention. Point out the junk mail flyer with the amazing layout that makes you feel an emotion (am I the only one who does that?) Point out instruments that evoke a mood to you. Look at sculptures and installation art that are all around you (subway mosaics, sculptures in gardens.)
Give your kids a chance to try something new. I was (past) college age before I got a chance to do things like relief printing, play in a darkroom, or make a plaster-of-paris sculpture. Don’t be like me! Go explore, go have fun, and go create.
Just remember: everyone can be creative. Don’t let that hold you back.