When I was in the 6th grade, I took an interest in architecture. While my friends were drawing images of superheroes and playing video games, I liked to draw floor plans. I even had some drafting tools that allowed me to draw to scale and insert fixtures and appliances. I’d browse floor plans in magazines for inspiration and then modify them in my drawings.
I didn’t really do anything with my drawings, other than collect them in my room. A few might have made it to the fridge, like other artifacts of my childhood. But aside from my parents, there really wasn’t any one to share my drawings with.
But it didn’t matter. By that age, I knew I was hungry to create. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an avenue for practicing creativity with others, at least none that I knew of. Well, other than school. But even in school, art was defined–or confined–to the curriculum or the interests of my teachers.
One time in the 5th grade, everyone in my class was given an outline of an object and asked to fill-in the colors. After proudly filling in my sheet making the likeness of a snail, I was ridiculed by the teacher for not seeing the cornucopia that it was supposed to be.
A little piece of my heart died that day.
That’s the type of experience I saw play out over and over again growing up. It led me to believe that there were unwritten rules limiting how and when someone can be creative and what constitutes art. If whatever it was—a floor plan, drawing of Spiderman or even an abstract cornucopia–didn’t conform to someone else’s expectations, it was somehow seen as trivial, nonsense, or lacking artistic value.
Eventually I learned that creativity is personal, there’s no right or wrong, and the value of a creation isn’t dependent upon what others think of it.
Thankfully, we have evolved.
Despite the criticism a lot of people from my generation and before have for technology and social media, it’s a new space for people to create and share freely. There’s even a new lexicon today referring to creativity and the arts. And there are new labels that, by virtue of being assigned a title, have had an empowering effect on just about everyone regardless of age or inherent skill.
Producer. Influencer. Creator.
A lot of people–including those younger than I was at the time of the cornucopia snail incident–are using words like “content” and “curate” to describe what they make and the way they collect and organize it. I often wonder if these words, and the values they represent, had existed when I was a student, how my childhood might have been different.
Of course with freedom comes responsibility. But rather than stifle it by generalizing the tools of today in a critical way, I think we need to cultivate the opportunities they provide.
If you’re hungry to see if you agree with me or not, spend 10 minutes scrolling TikTok. Or any social media really. The catch, however, is to do it with an open mind–not a curmudgeonly one like my 5th grade teacher. While you may like some of what you see, or none at all, the only rule I believe that exists when it comes to creativity is that none of us can decide if it is good or not.