Promoting Creativity – A Welcomed Invitation

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on Making Creativity Visible at the Columbus Museum of Art. It’s part of a grant project spearheaded by the museum’s Center for Creativity which I will report on at a later time. As a warm-up to the discussion, the educators and docents in the room were asked to think of ways we model, promote, and assess creativity in our work. While I’d like to think through these prompts again with my university students in mind, in the moment I thought of my own children and our home studio experiences.

In the section on promoting creativity, I wrote: “I let things get messy.” And just below that, I wrote, “I clean things up.” I firmly believe that being creative requires space and time to put lots of materials out on the table but it also requires clear space to think and see one’s options and imagine new possibilities. This all reminded me of something that happened at home this past weekend.

As regular readers know, I’ve been working with the concept of “invitations” for creative activity around the house. This weekend, the invitations I’ve been sending came back to me, wrapped up with a big red ribbon.

This was the scene of the action.

Cora's easel positioned in a new location, with supplies she hasn't used in awhile, and a fresh sheet of drawing paper.

Cora’s easel, which for the past month had been moving around the living room mostly just collecting dust, caught her attention the moment she rounded the corner into the kitchen. In addition to moving it into a new space, I had rolled out a fresh sheet of paper and set out some triangular crayons she’d been neglecting in favor of markers.

“Thanks for settting this up for me mom!” she cheered, and my eyes immediately welled up.

Cora picked up some crayons and started drawing, big bold strokes of color. She was drawing with her whole body, in motion, and singing songs from the Sesame Street alphabet album which we listened to that morning. She was exuding positive energy and intensely making fields of color.


For the past while Cora’s been making up a stories when she draws. Talking through her process, but still not drawing much recognizable imagery. So I asked her to tell me about what she was doing.

“This is a spiral drawing,” she declared and then she paused . . . . . “Do you know why I am doing this, Mom?”

“No. Why?”

“Because… I have to.”

I’m not really sure what Cora meant by this statement but I am sure it relates to issues of discipline, persistence, and drive to make things mentioned by the panelists at the museum. I’m sure I’m going to keep thinking about it. And I hope reading my documentation of this creative happening in my kitchen prompts some of you to set up a clean slate for your students and children to embark on a new creative adventure. If not today, then perhaps in the new year.

Need inspiration: Check out Tinkerlab and Playful Learning.


4 thoughts on “Promoting Creativity – A Welcomed Invitation

  1. Jodi, this so mirrors what happens in my house! The constant organizing and re arranging of materials. Nora sits and sings at the table while she creates. It’s amaZing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. “For the past while Cora’s been making up a stories when she draws. Talking through her process, but still not drawing much recognizable imagery.”
    In response to this description of Cora drawing, I send you a LONG quote from a paper I wrote,
    “Images of Experience.”
    How amazing is this generational correspondence!

    For Mollie Collins, who died on June 14th, 1982, at age ninety-four, painting provided an opportunity to relive her youth in the tobacco, cotton and cornfields of a plantation in Chattahoochie County, Georgia. Although Mrs. Collins began painting when she arrived at the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home in New York City, her early experiences in creating original designs for quilts, probably gave her a sense of assurance as she confronted the large, blank expanse of the paper put before her.

    Right from the start, her artist-teacher/art therapist, Misty Melcer, noticed that Mrs. Collins made broad scribbling motions as she worked (Telephone conversations, June 18 and 20, 1982). As a result, Melcer supplied bigger paper and large oil sticks to accommodate her sweeping gestures. Being confined to a wheelchair made it difficult for Mrs. Collins to reach the top of the paper when it lay flat before her. Melcer made another adjustment to meet her student’s special needs: she attached the paper vertically to a display board. This placed Mrs. Collins’ eye level at the paper’s center and allowed her hand to reach all four corners of the sheet. Because of certain manual difficulties, the large oil sticks were easier for her to hold; thus she was able to cover the surface of the paper quickly.

    Mrs. Collins would sit and look at the oil sticks before starting to work. Once, for example, she chose yellow ochre because, in her words, “It looked like the wheat we made bread from.” The choice of a color invoked a series of associations that she would often voice as she worked. By the time the oil stick touched the paper, a wheat field near the barn became the focus of her scribbling motions. Even the oil stick itself played a role in this personal drama. Often, she would laugh and tell her teacher that she felt as if the oil stick was like the sickle with which she had cut the hay. While fully conscious of where she was, Mrs. Collins’ was, at the same time, totally involved in physically and mentally reliving the feelings and perceptions conjured up by associating her former work in the wheat fields with her delineations on the white field of paper.

    Memories always served as her subject matter, but some adjustments had to be made to capture the mental image. Whether things were drawn correctly or “matched” some external reality was not her primary concern, although occasionally she would ask if the picture looked “all right”? Melcer made suggestions about empty areas that seemed unfinished but she would never comment on the manner or quality of the representation. After a number of sessions, the oil stick’s color no longer served as the required stimulus to start Mrs. Collins off on the dual process of remembering and drawing. For example, a conversation she had had before arriving at the home’s Activity Room would provide her with the idea for a painting.

  3. Pingback: Worlds collide: Art education at OEFFA | Art Education Outside The lines

  4. I need to do this too. We have a little easel in our living room that hasn’t had much use so I think I might try moving it to my daughters bedroom. It’s funny how just putting something in a different spot can make kids look at it in a new way. I guess it is interesting because it is unexpected!

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