Three years ago I went to Bilbao for a week-long training in Creative Education. At the time my main motivation to do this course was to spend a week with myself (after 4 years of intense parenting of twins) and paint, play with clay and dance in a judgement free space. Another mother from the shared parenting group we were part of at the time (Educar es Amar) had told us about Creative Education and its importance in preserving and unfolding the creative potential of every human being. The course was fascinating. Listening to Miguel Castro and Vega Martin from Diraya talk about the work of Arno Stern was a great inspiration. It was also amazing to hear how they had applied Arno’s principles, which were all based on painting and drawing, to their own applications: clay, movement, configuration and even storytelling.
Spaces without judgement, without comparisons, without competition ….. things that regularly surround artistic experience in our society? Phrases like “how nice”, “that is so pretty”, “that is wonderful”, “aren’t you a little artist?” or “he is really good at painting but her sister sings better” constantly surround young children when they start playing and experimenting with colours, painting, movement, voice …… how can we get rid of these judgements? … and more intriguing still … what happens if you manage to eliminate them completely?
Arno Stern dedicated his life to studying this phenomenon and came to define very clear conditions for his painting workshop in Paris, which allowed people of any age, after a process of “judgment detox” to connect with their authentic creative expression, this is what Arno called Formulation.
This concept made a lot of sense to me and I finished the course absolutely convinced that I was going to open a creative education painting space when I returned home. And that is exactly what I did.
I was fated to meet Yolanda Martinez from Kurukan, who was at that time also very excited aboout the idea of opening a creative education painting workshop. So we created Semillas de Juego and opened our own painting workshop and two years later a clay one.
The experience has not been easy, some of the conditions fundamental to the essence of Creative Education and described by Arno seem to be so far from most peoples references or expectations that they find them difficult to understand.
A place where paintings are never exhibited? Where you can’t take home your own paintings? And parents cannot see their childs work? A painting class where nothing is taught? But what about perspective? Colour theory? …mmmmm… and groups are mixed in ages? Adults and children painting in the same space? The class does not finish at the same time for everyone? Each person decides when they are done? ….weird …. and the most difficult and strangest of all: Its not possible to try once so that my child can decide if they like it?
Creative education is a long process that takes time. Most people who come for the first time to such a space already come with a fairly high level of judgement toxicity. Even with children as young as 2 or 3 years old, the majority are constantly asking if you like what they drew, or they are always explaining what they have drawn. These symptoms will not disappear quickly. They are very engrained and Arno recommends at least one year of weekly access to a creative education space as a minimum to start seeing authentic connections (or formulations) with each persons creative expression. This is the main reason why trying the space for one day does not make any sense. What a human being experiences the first day of attending a session of painting is possibly very different from what she or he will experience in their long term personal process. A child or an adult can feel great excitement and pleasure when using for the first time the wonderful brushes and organic paints from the workshop. And then the next session he or she may experience the vertigo of a blank page and the lack of direction. Or vice versa. Also the social process is very important. It takes time to feel comfortable in the group, with others, with the facilitator. It takes time to really relax into the absence of judgement, especially the judgement that comes from our own heads.
And sometimes there is crisis on the journey. It requires effort. And it is necessary, especially for children, that their parents accompany them in these crises so that they keep coming to the workshop and get over the blip and continue the process.
We have also often found a lot of resistance from parents to this concept of commitment to the process. This commitment means coming to the workshop even when their child is telling them that they do not want to come. This is especially hard for parents that believe that their child should be the one taking this kind of decision. But is it really good for them to make so many decisions? This is a topic for another article, an interesting one to explore. But with regard to creative education workshops, I would like to share the experience I have had with our two children on this issue:
During their first year attending the painting workshop (they were 5 years old) they had to deal with the challenge of social inclusion in a group of mixed ages. They are rather introverted children and it took them a while to get used to being in the space with others. So there was alot of resistance. For almost every session they did not want to go. Sometimes it was pure laziness: it was an effort to leave their comfort zone (their living room) and go to this space where they faced both social challenges and their own creative process. With empathy and love, we accompanied them on this journey, we heard them andweallowed the expressions of their feelings … and they did not miss a single session. So gradually they found it easier both socially and in their creation with colors.
In the second year, refusal to go to the workshop became less common and they also went through times when they were drawing constantly at home, and without asking me if I liked it or not or whether it was nice.
During the past year (their third) they have not protested at all, on the contrary, they sometimes wondered when was the workshop on because they wanted to go. Their working time in the workshop as well as their level of excitement and concentration has also increased over the 3 years. Now it is a space that they truly appreciate.
They are also able to detect when someone is judging their creations:
In La Tribu, the educational project which they attend, there is an area for drawing and painting. There are cards that are red on one side and green on the other. Each child places a card next to their drawing green or red side up. depending on whether or not they are open to judgment and comments from others or if they do not want anyone to say anything about their creation. My kids always draw with the red side up. They love to draw and paint, both at home and in the workshop. And none of this wonderful process would have been possible if they had stopped going any time one of them had told me … “mammy…. I don’t want to go today ….”
There is just a handful of people who have gone through this kind of long term process in the workshop with me as an assistant. With those who have done it or are doing it, it has been a pleasure to assist them and be a witness to teach ones internal journey. It is a privilege to witness firsthand how their creativity unfolds, that personal ability we all have as human beings to create something out of nothing. I still love and appreciate the principles of creative education and their application not only in specific workshops but generally in group work with children and adults.