Do you remember the smell of a brand new box of crayons? I certainly do and loved the anticipation of what would become of those beautiful colors. Someone who worked for Crayola actually was employed to give them names like cadet blue, razzle dazzle rose, and screamin’ green, a job I secretly envied for years. Earlier this week I shared this quotation by Hugh Macleod on Facebook without really thinking it through: “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.’ ”
I was fortunate that nobody every took my crayons away. In fact, “they” just gave me more crayons of a different kind to play with. Those crayons actually were some of those “dry uninspiring” subjects like biology and geometry and even chemistry. that were taught by teachers who showed me that they were crayons too. What is a crayon, after all, but a stick of pigment in wax, a tool to create something of beauty, a metaphor for a spirit of curiosity, creativity, and wonder?
One of my own former biology students challenged me to re-think what I had shared in that quotation. I did. The point being made by Macleod, I think, has to do with the disregard for the importance of the arts in education and the emphasis on the more “useful” disciplines (fortunately an attitude that appears to be changing). That was particularly true in earlier generations. Maybe we still need to learn and appreciate how all the disciplines can provide color in our lives. Then we can see the beauty of a scientist’s search to find the secrets of the genetic code or the origin of the Big Bang. We can marvel at the Fibonacci series in the whirl of a sunflower head. Then our minds can be opened to how a plant photosynthesizes or a bird sings a particular song. Then we can treasure the changes of the season and the evolution of life on earth and understand the reality of climate change. We can rejoice with Mission Control at NASA when a new satellite achieves orbit. We can ponder with amazement how a virus we cannot see was able to bring mighty nations to their knees and the world to a standstill. We can delight in the stories that brought humankind to this moment in history.
” I know artists whose medium is life itself, and who express the inexpressible without brush, pencil, chisel or guitar. They neither paint nor dance. Their medium is Being. Whatever their hand touches has increased life… They are the artists of being alive.” Frederick Franck