Artist educator and guest writer Paula Briggs is Creative Director at Access Art, a platform which supports art teachers across the UK with great resources for teachers and schools. With the release of her new book Drawing Projects for Children, Paula shares her top tips on how to inspire creativity in others.
Ways to Encourage Creativity in Other People
Whilst many artists can make a living from their work, many others, as we all know, turn to teaching as a way of making ends meet. But the artist’s relationship with teaching is much more than one of convenience: artists can actually make great educators.
Sheila Ceccarelli and I have spent over 20 years helping artists realise their skills as facilitators and educators, and helping teachers develop their own creativity, through our charity AccessArt. Sheila and I see the symbiotic relationship between teaching and creativity as being a very empowering relationship for all concerned.
First of all we need to agree upon what we mean by “teaching”. Of course there is a wide spectrum of teaching opportunities out there, from formal jobs in schools and colleges, to part-time lecturing, to community-based workshops, freelance sessions in museums and workshops, or voluntary sessions in an after school club. The important point here, is not where or how or with whom the teaching takes place, but the act of sharing, and the notion that the skills it takes to teach, can actually re-feed and re-fuel your own creativity.
I've put together 4 key strengths that will help you encourage creativity in other people.
1. Share your Skills
I love the notion of artists transforming the world through their hands, head and heart. Whatever your preferred medium, you will have discovered your own ways of bringing your ideas into fruition. You will have in your head a myriad of practical processes for manipulating the world. You’ll have your own special way of seeing the world, and of interpreting it. Sharing these skills and insights is NOT about the people around you creating watered down versions of your work – that won’t happen. This is just about you taking the time to sit down, think about all the different skills that you have to offer, and then to think about your learners, to enable you to devise an activity. Who are they? What is their level of experience? What are their interests and motivation? What do they need from you, to set off on their own creative journey.
The AccessArt website has lots of resources to get you started, but it is your particular set of skills that will make your teaching unique.
2. Share your Passion
All artists know how fragile the creative ego can be, and how easy it is to talk yourself out of making work. It is hard to put something out there in the world. It is the artist’s appreciation of this – of the sheer leap of faith it takes to commit pen to paper, or hand to clay, to follow a small urge to bring something into being, when the voice in your head is telling you it might not work, that I believe makes artists such great enablers. They understand how difficult this process can be, and yet they persist in trying. Contrary to the image of a desperate artist working in a studio, tearing his or her hair out in despair as they commit their tormented soul to canvas, I actually think artists are amazingly optimistic people. They continue to create despite the fact that many times it doesn’t work out. They are driven. They have a passion, and people respond to this passion.
Be supportive and nurturing to your pupils. The best teachers are passionate, supportive, critical friends, who respect the creative process.
3. Share your Creative Process
Many people find the notion of being an artist intriguing. Where do you get your ideas? What do you do with your time? Mention the word studio, and people want to learn more: What’s the space like? Can we see it? Show them a sketchbook and they feel like they have a privileged glimpse into the workings of your mind (which they do). We know of course that artwork can inspire – but we really do need to remember that the whole process of making art can be even more inspirational.
Take the time to stop and think about your own processes. I’m not talking this time about the skills (not the etching, the sewing, the building, the drawing), but instead I mean the creative processes: the way you might follow your intuition or instinct. How you let an idea appear; the way you follow two trains of thought into they merge into one new idea; your fascination for a particular colour and what you do with that fascination; the joy of putting first marks on canvas; the fear you might feel; the exhilaration; the doubt which creeps in; the reflection and the final stage of allowing something to exist without you. These creative stages are unique to you as you experience them, and yet a shared part of the creative process. After years of working as an artist you will be familiar with them, and I’m sure they help you through the creation of your work. But these stages will be fascinating, terrifying and encouraging in equal measures to your pupils. Introduce them to these stages through exercises or projects in which they can experience them for themselves. Give these stages names, help them acknowledge them, and you will be supporting your pupil’s creativity for many years to come.
4. Share your Artwork
And finally to the work you produce - your hard earned artwork. How can you use that to encourage creativity in others? Of course if you are an established artist you might already feel confident that your artwork has the power to inspire, but what if you’re still finding your way with your own work? Can you still inspire others with your work? The answer is a very definite yes. In 2015 AccessArt ran a very successful project called Share-a-Bird. Over 160 artists gifted artworks of birds, which AccessArt passed on to schools across the UK. The artists were of all levels, as was their artwork, but with each artwork we asked each artist to write a message of inspiration for the school who would be receiving the bird, sharing their passion, skills and processes. Without fail, each bird landing as a gift in a school went on to inspire pupils and teachers to make their own work, resulting in a very poignant yet powerful project. Don’t feel you must wait until you have achieved some kind of recognition as an artist before you share your work with the world – just make sure you share your skills, passions and processes (honestly) and you WILL enable others.
If you’re thinking “Maybe, I might do that, one day” but need a further push of encouragement to get out there and share a skill, then consider this:
Be brave, and build relationships. Until you reach out and see how your ideas can inspire others, then you’ll never really know how powerful your own creativity can be.
By Paula Briggs. Creative Director at AccessArt, Author of Drawing Projects for Children, Black Dog Publishing, 2015 & Make, Build, Create: Sculpture Projects for Children, Black Dog Publishing Spring 2016.