Blank canvas

130818_bembridge_sand face

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”

Pablo Picasso

 It’s half term break and children’s ability to entertain themselves never fails to amaze me.

My 10 year old and his school friends are in the grip of Minecraft, a computer game they play together over the internet, communicating via head-sets. Normally, I despise computer games, but not this one. The lads build their own world using blocks made from different materials. The thought and consideration that goes into each build is awe-inspiring. My son’s latest addition to his Minecraft world is a cake and coffee stand, complete with an outside toilet and a sharing table for people on dates. By exploring their creation you get a (sometimes scary) glimpse into how they see the world, what their dreams and aspirations are. I suppose that’s it is an indoor version of building sandcastles on the beach.

For the next few days I’ve unhooked my son from his X-Box and dragged him on a family visit. He’s been having a magical time playing in the piles of leaves brought down by the storm and throwing sticks up into the trees to bring down prime, shiny conkers.

As a child, when I wasn’t whizzing around on my bike, I liked to trash the kitchen inventing horrible, inedible recipes (usually involving raw pasta and Oxo cubes) or build dark and wobbly dens in the garden hedges, in which I’d try and cook sausages over candles. I sometimes wrote stories, which I thought were silly, but my grandma used to take them off me, put them in a shoe box high in her wardrobe and tell me that one day she’d publish a book of them called “Juicy Jelly’s Tiny Tales”.

Now that I’m all grown up I still love doing the same things. However, my recipes aren’t quite so inedible, my house is my den and this blog has (for the moment…) taken the place of my stories.

I’ve recently read a great book called the Icarus Deception, by Seth Godin. In it he defines art as “the unique work of a human being, work that touches another”. To me, all of the weird and wonderful creations described above are pieces of art.

 “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”

George Bernard Shaw

 I find that there’s nothing quite like losing myself in a really good book, with a gripping plot, full of deep, complex characters. I move into the fictional world I’ve created in my mind and develop intimate relationships with its population.

The downside of a great novel is that inevitably, someone turns it into a movie which I can’t resist watching and “BANG”, my fabulous creation has gone.

Watching a movie is passive – it does all of the creating for us. If we’re not on the look-out, life can creep up on us and do exactly the same thing.

The good news, explains Godin, is that even when we are working we have a “choice between doing art (and forging our own path, on our own terms and owning what happens) and merely doing our job (which pushes all the power and all the responsibility to someone else).” It’s not about being an anarchist. We will always have unavoidable boundaries and constraints within which we have to live or work. It’s caring deeply about what we do, challenging the status quo and being a proactive pioneer.

 “A cook follows a recipe. A chef invents one. We have too many cooks. The world is begging for chefs”

Seth Godin

 According to Godin, to be truly awake and living our lives to the full we shouldn’t be waiting for a map, we should be drawing one.

A 12 year old school girl from the USA, Brittany Wenger, became interested in computer programming after a talk by a futurist and taught herself how to do it. When her cousin developed breast cancer, a 15 year old Brittany developed a breast cancer diagnostic programme which is 99% accurate. Wow.

Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer palace on the Isle of Wight, is one of my favourite places to visit and should, in my opinion, immediately be added to your “places to visit before you die” list. It was designed by Prince Albert and is packed full of inventions and innovations. For example, cockleshells were used for insulation – a stunning example of self-drawn map and a true work of art.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fascinated by technology and often invited scientists and inventors to Osborne to demonstrate their latest discoveries; for example, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone and Marconi the wireless telegraph. Securing such patronage must have boosted the adoption of their inventions.

 “Creativity is contagious – pass it on”

Albert Einstein

Godin advocates the following six daily habits for artists:

  • Sit alone, sit quietly
  • Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit
  • Ask individuals for bold feedback, ignore what you hear from the crowd
  • Spend time encouraging other artists
  • Teach, with the intent of making change
  • Ship something that you created

For me, the most important habit from the list above is “encouraging other artists”. Those artists include our children.

A friend of mine, who was a social worker in a coastal town, told me how she often came across children who had never been taken to the beach by their parents, despite living five minutes’ walk away. That really stuck in my heart. It’s the most wonderful children’s playground and it’s free – a place where imaginations, along with little legs, can run wild.

There is a truly wonderful gift we can give our children – to teach them that the world is their blank canvas and to provide them with every opportunity and encouragement to create.

But we can’t stop there.

As Pablo Picasso observed, “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up”.

I’ve chosen the path of “doing art”, will you ?

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