Art’s Place In Our Culture

It bothers me when people talk about “creative people.” Growing up in the South, I’ve encountered this quite regularly. To me, it’s odd to think that some people regard creativity as an elusive trait only given to a select few. They really do. And, if you deny any over-abundance of talent or possess too much modesty, you’ll get the reaction: “Yes, you are. I could never do something like that.” In thinking this way, people dramatically limit themselves. I don’t believe there are creative people or average people. I think people are born with natural aptitudes toward things, and they are either developed into abilities or they aren’t. The problem begins when some of these aptitudes are discouraged. Kids will naturally take a stab at anything unless they are told they are wrong. It’s amazing what kind of learning can occur if a spark of curiosity is ignited in a child, but too many of those sparks are doused because they aren’t considered useful. In our education system, all students are held to the same standards, and too many of them miss out on developing their stronger aptitudes.

Luckily for me, I had a very balanced high school curriculum with teachers who encouraged my “extracurricular” pursuits, like filmmaking, and I was a very well rounded student. In this environment, I began to connect the dots between subjects. Physics and math were just as important to me as music and English because they all–collectively–helped me become a better visual storyteller. And, for me, my creative thinking seemed to be more powerful when I thought of these collectively rather than putting each subject in a box and filing them away. Now, I attribute my success so far to discovering how to learn organically–the way in which people think and develop ideas–in spite of the industrious process that we call education.

It wasn’t until college that I really noticed the gap between how students learn and how they are educated. Classes were even more independent there; professors acted as if their classes were the only classes. Most textbooks came with an online class that was often assigned in addition to written material. It became a fight to have time to learn anything well and actually attribute meaning to anything before moving on to the next thing.

I couldn’t afford film school, nor was I willing to go into nearly two-hundred thousand dollars of debt for a degree. Pursuing anything outside of my passion was like trying to grow flowers in the dark. It didn’t work. So, after three semesters, I finally realized that college didn’t offer an environment that I could grow in–that wouldn’t help me attain my goals. In fact, it hindered them. For me, it was a bad investment.

It’s an interesting time we live in–in that we are using an education system that’s 150 years old to prepare our youth for a world changing more rapidly than it ever has before. Our education system only promotes certain traits that were considered useful in a much less complex time which does not bridge the current gap between what kids have to offer and what our society (and job market) is looking for and needs. Picasso once observed: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Innovators, creative thinkers, and explorers are needed in every field. What if we taught art in a way that didn’t limit it to a classroom with paintbrushes but recognized it as a driving force in everyone? After all, we are all artists in some way. We should educate and live in a way that promotes all of human intelligence–not just part of it.

This article was written for, a new place for young artists to grow and network pioneered by one of my good friends. 

Want more? Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s work in creativity:

Feel free to add you experiences to the conversation below.