Recently, I came across a stunning article called “The Average Fourth Grader Is a Better Poet Than You (and Me Too)” by Hannah Gamble. Upon reading some of the prose from young students, I had a lot of thinking to do (after I was done genuinely tearing up at some of these lines).
[Writing about a family member’s recent death:]
“My brother went down/ to the river
and put dirt on.”
[Writing about a terminal illness:]
“I am feeling burdened
and I taste milk……
I mumble, ‘Please,
please run away.’
But it lives where I live.”
[Writing about life as a movie:]
“The choir enters, and the director screams
‘Sing with more terror!!!’”
I have always truly believed that we are all born with such an immense capacity for creativity, and I often think that our unbelievably complicated modern world puts this intrinsic talent to the test. The article previously mentioned proves this, with the kids writing about chronic illnesses and the death of family members in the only way they can express. Perhaps even more fascinating is when Gamble goes on to speak about her older students, and how their prose suffers because they have learned more predictable language and common speech. I think this touches on something very profound, as the art world seems to be in this never-ending struggle between conformity and rejection of commonplace thinking.
This phenomenon could also apply to the unique allure of self-taught artists. While not entirely the same as the young poets due to their socialization in the world, there is a certain individuality that subtly differs from academically trained artists. I believe that this comes from the slight difference in style development. We tend to think of style as “finding your voice” within your artworks, but with self-taught artists they have almost nothing but their own voice to influence their style. Artists such as Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh are generally regarded as self-taught, and we can easily see this informed decision making and uniqueness in their works. Today there are more self-taught artists than ever, and as a result we have no dominating art style and a myriad of pieces to enjoy.
This conversation also leads to the fatigue of “educated artists”, who find that curriculum actually hinders their expression. It’s difficult to gauge the truth of that statement, but personally I have somewhat found it to be the case. In visual art assignments, I find that the more guidelines given, the “worse” my piece tends to be. This is without even mentioning the specific decline in creativity I, along with many others surely, have felt growing up. We now know that training is the more likely path to success but feel a kind of mourning for our childlike creativity. I don’t intend at all to come off as against art education as it is literally the reason I am where I am, I just find this conversation so fascinating. Our socialization impacts our entire lives in ways we often don’t realize, and once we do we can begin to reconcile our original creativity.
Gamble ends her article with the quote “The poet’s job is to forget how people do it”, and I think the artist’s job is the same.