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Role Model
Cilente Bosman : How to be a creative role model

How to be a creative role model

— even if you don't think you're that creative

By Cilente Bosman

There is a growing awareness of the importance of creativity for children's development and organisations such as the International Child Art Foundation are campaigning to "harness children's imagination for positive social change."

Schools and educational institutions have a vital role to play in nurturing children's creativity, but sadly, the educational system often fails to support creativity due to the key focus being on 'vocational' subjects such as science. In my Artsbowl blog on "Right brain left brain thinking and creativity", I expand more on this subject.

In order to bring about a true "creativity revolution" the importance of a creatively stimulating home environment cannot be emphasised enough.

Learning through imitation

Children learn through imitating the behaviour (and attitudes) of their parents which means that how we behave can have a profound and lasting effect on our children.

Most of us have experienced the delight of cooking or baking with our children — a creative activity which involves learning some useful life skills.

On the other hand, I have become quite accustomed to hearing friends and neighbours saying things like "I don't have a creative bone in my body." This does not put me off from trying to persuade them that they do have creativity within them.

Creativity as a mind-set

The problem seems to be that the word "creative" has become synonymous with "artistic", when in fact it refers to a wide range of skills, for example finding an inventive way to help your child overcome a problem at school, experimenting with flavours in your cooking, or deciding how to arrange your furniture and ornaments in a harmonious and pleasing way.

When children hear their parent expressing (or manifesting) beliefs such as "I can't draw — never could, so I won't even try" they may start to doubt their own ability to be able to draw (or paint, sing, or dance).

Valuing creativity is vital when you are encouraging children to explore and develop through creative activities. If you are always putting something else first, the message you convey is that "creativity is not important." If, on the other hand, you give up something which is really not that enjoyable or helpful to your personal growth, such as playing Facebook games, or reading the sports pages, in order to do something creative, your children will learn to value creativity as a worthwhile activity.

There is no such thing as a "born artist"

One of the biggest limiting beliefs about creativity is that all truly creative people are born with some innate talent and that unless you have this 'gift' it is futile to try and become more skilled at a particular creative discipline.

In his book "Outliers: The story of success", Malcolm Gladwell busts some myths about success through documenting numerous examples of people who have been highly successful in their chosen field and how they become successful through putting in the hours. Thousands of hours. Certainly many more hours than those who have been less successful in the same field.

Of course the desire to be good at something needs to be there, but if this desire is suppressed rather than encouraged, the individual is much less likely to develop the skill required to become successful.

It's never too late to develop creativity

How old is too old to be creative? The truth is that we are all born with an innate creativity and that this creativity never 'dies'. It just becomes dormant, waiting to be resurrected one day. Even an undernourished creative spirit is still part of your subconscious mind, active in dreams, daydreams and occasionally surprising you with an insight that makes you sit up and say "Wow — what a great idea I've just had!"

The foremost biggest obstacle to your creativity is usually the influence of past negative events and comments which affect your confidence about your creative ability. If you think back to when you were a child you will probably remember someone making a comment such as "you'll never make any money as a writer" or "you don't want to be an artist — you want a proper career" or "what's that supposed to be?" — referring to a drawing or painting you produced.

Learning to deal with external critics, as well as your own inner critic is part and parcel of learning to persevere in any discipline and something you need to help your children deal with too. We all need some encouragement and as parents you can bolster your child's confidence through plenty of positive feedback, praise and constructive remarks.

Leading by example

My daughter is not always keen to do her flute practice, but whenever I get my flute out (which is not as often as I'd like), she usually wants to get hers out and play as well.

The last time I really tried my hand at art was probably about fifteen years ago, but when I recently decided to allow myself more time to let my creative "inner child" out to play, my daughter's enthusiasm to join in was infectious!

Even if you have never developed a creative skill before, your child will appreciate you making an effort to do something new and is hardly likely to judge the result. After all, if you want them to give new experiences a try you should be prepared to experiment a little yourself too!

Learning by doing

The second obstacle to being creative is fear of failure. We want, too often, to do everything well, right first time, with no room for 'mistakes, that we forget that everything we have ever learnt to do was through trial and error, from walking and talking, to using a computer. I see the frustration this can create in my son, who is learning to play the violin, when he is learning a new, more complicated piece and expects it to be fluent from the start. What I hope he is learning is that everything takes effort and a bit of time. But it's worth it in the end.

If you want to become a creative role model for your child, your grandchild or even a niece or nephew, the best way of doing this is simply through "having a go." They are not likely to judge you if you don't get it "right" first time and are much more likely to want to have a go themselves.

Becoming a creative role model means teaching through showing the way — rather than telling them how to do something. It is also an amazing opportunity to teach the values this article has touched upon: success comes through perseverance and you can have fun developing the skills that can allow you to become a "master" at something, even if you never sell a painting or become a bestselling author. It is also an opportunity to strengthen the bonds between you and your child that can often begin to loosen as they grow up, providing you with a shared interest that will enable you to spend quality time together and have something to talk about.

Creativity as expression

You will probably find that, as your creative journey together begins or continues, both you and your child will find new ways of expressing your feelings and that you even start to feel happier about yourself. For young individuals growing up, this can be an invaluable way to deal with the turbulent emotions of puberty and adolescence and can even be a coping strategy and a diversion when things get a bit "too much" in relationships or at school.

Redefining success

The fear of failure that holds so many of us back is perhaps due to unrealistic ideas of what success means. To be successful as a musician, you need to have a record deal. To be a successful writer, you should have sold many books. To be a successful artist, your work should be displayed in prestigious galleries. For some, these definitions of success are dreams to aspire to. For most they are just barriers to ever trying to play an instrument or pick up a paintbrush.

What we need is to redefine success as something that more 'useful' to us. We need to recognise small successes and find lessons in the experiences that don't quite work out according to plan. For example, I tried a painting technique that didn't turn out as I expected it to. I learnt that I need a particular type of paper when I try it again next time and through experimenting with some different tools, discovered a great new way to create a different (though unintentional) effect.

So when you, or your child don't get it right first time, learn how to recognise these experiences not as failures, but as one way of not doing something, so that you can do it better next time, or as a way of discovering something new. •

© Cilente Bosman 2010. All rights reserved.

Cilente BosmanCilente Bosman was co-founder of the former creative courses hub Artsbowl. More »

Updated 7/25/15