The urge to create

“Teach your kids to code,” suggests Eutopia, offering resources for parents to help their kids learn coding.

I’m not sure that learning to code would have made my childhood better. Especially if it took time away from my true calling: making miniature villages.

The girl in the photo above, in Laos, probably didn’t think she was “working” or “learning.” She just had the urge to create, and she used what she could find.

She was lucky to have a plastic cup for a mold. When I played next to the creek in our yard, I wasn’t allowed to take any toys or tools from the house. But like this little girl, I built my urban developments with sticks, leaves, mud and stones.

When I ran across this photo today, I wondered: At what age do we get the urge to start creating things? Or is the impulse really something else?

Maybe it’s the urge to control. We make our little villages so that we can be masters of the universe, since as children all the adults are always pushing us around.

Or maybe it’s the urge to escape. In my childhood during the turbulent ’60s, I remember trying to escape chaos and things I didn’t understand (why is my sister crying and Mom yelling?). I went outdoors to make imaginary worlds that were less confusing.

Maybe this creation of childhood comes from trying to reproduce things that dripped through our heads, either in our dreams or in our daydreams. Or simply from the need to play in an open-ended way.

This is our beginning as artists: We want to express ourselves.

Self-expression is the key ingredient in my personal definition of art. That self-expression may or may not resonate with every viewer; but it must show the hand and mind and spirit of a single human being, the artist.

I get so tired of landscape paintings that have nothing expressive in them. They could be painted by anyone at all.

It takes no creativity to reproduce a pretty scene; it just takes painting skills. That sort of painting doesn’t offer the world anything that it doesn’t already have.

Sometimes our self-expression is ugly. Sometimes it is not the kind of thing that people want to put above their couch. Especially if the color doesn’t match their couch.

Art isn’t about what goes above the couch. It’s about the urge to create, the expression that prompts one human being to respond to another.

You might not like what that other human being has to say. Their feelings and experiences might make you uncomfortable, you might want to turn away, and you definitely might not want it in your living room. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t art.

Art and beauty are two different things.

Our self-expression often takes the form of something beautiful, but that isn’t what makes it art. It’s the humanity that comes through in the artist’s choice of subject, colors, composition and techniques, that makes a picture which is their very own vision of the world.

That little girl in Laos would be a teenager finishing high school now. I wonder if she will be an artist, or a coder?

Today’s penny is a somewhat muddy 2002, for the year I photographed her.

Feb 25 2002

5 thoughts on “The urge to create”

  1. Ahhh! Music to my ears and soul! Most people are afraid of their own voice and have not dared or been encouraged to find it. I play hide and seek with mine. Sadly, I just painted a landscape……?

    1. Well-said – about playing hide and seek. You’re so right about that. And geez, not all landscapes are boring by any means!

  2. This is a landscape that wowed me with the lyrical composition and color. Hopefully it contains some of my spirit although I did not push the envelope or the edges of myself very much. I know the difference … Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. SO PERFECTLY EXPRESSED! Your writing is a thing of beauty AND an artistic creation. You expressed exactly how I feel but don’t have the skills to articulate. OH HOW I LOVE THIS BLOG!

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