Friday, July 8, 2011

Of Horrible Giraffes and the Creative Process

I have always been careful—or so I thought—about what I said around my nephew, who is five years old now. I didn’t want him to pick up choice curse words from me. I didn’t want him to get the idea that I thought he needed improvement. When I was young, I remember grown ups saying, “You would be so much prettier if you would just _________” (lose weight, change your hair, change your clothes, be anything but the person who you are). I don’t want to be that person.

I didn’t think about the fact that he might pick up damaging ideas about art and creativity from me. Of course not! I was going to be the cool aunt, the one who collaborated with him on puppet shows and all sorts of creative fun. So far, we’ve had a great time creating together.

But a week ago, my heart stopped when I saw him look up from his drawing to say, “This giraffe looks horrible.”

Where had he picked that up from? Me, of course.

The night before, he had asked us each to draw a picture in his book. He’s very much into creating books. He cuts and folds paper, and then he draws and/or writes in his books.  This past visit, he would often create a book for each of us, and we'd all create books together--yes, my dream vacation!

So, when your nephew asks you to contribute to his book, what to offer?  I had drawn such an endearing giraffe that I decided to recreate it for the new book.

Giraffe #2 was not the endearing creature of the day before. Giraffe # 2 looked like he had swallowed a small house that had made his stomach distended. His spots were all wrong. His face looked misshapen. I said, “This giraffe looks horrible.” I stressed the word “horrible,” with great melodrama.

The next day, my nephew said it right back to me, with the exact same emphasis and intonation.

We all rushed to assure him that his giraffe looked perfectly lovely. I’m not sure he knows the full impact of the word “horrible,” especially not as it applies to our creative works.

He’ll be starting school soon. I’m sure he’ll get that message time and time again. I’m sad that he heard it from me first.

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