We seem to be drowning in bad news; today the announcement came that more art programs in schools are being cut. That may seem trivial in the face of oil spills and other disasters, but I think not. How can we create a new world when so few of us understand the creative process? When we don't know how to be creative, we tend to be passive and expect governments to solve problems. That mindset hasn't worked. The government has washed ashore like a great whale. If we want the world to change, we need to change ourselves. We need to become creative thinkers.
Here's the good news. I have a studio at an art center that sits next to Boston. As I write, the place is swarming with kids enrolled for the summer art program. Our education program here is the center's great strength. We have a theater too and gallery space. And every theatrical production, every concert by a young band, every art show is part of the mission to involve kids and adults in creative endeavor.
I teach here and I see how the simple act of drawing changes lives. We learn to express ourselves and show up in the world no matter our skill level. We learn it's okay to try and to fail but also that we're capable of achieving what we set our minds on. We learn perseverance and courage. And, best of all, drawing makes us smile. We carry that joy with us when we leave class. Art takes us into a place of peace where we see clearly what obstacles are and also how to leap over them. And we learn to take action.
Art, as we all know, has never ranked high on our list of educational priorities. Reading, writing and arithmetic are core skills for any kid, along with languages and science. But art and music too have a critical role to play if we're to solve problems. Art-making teaches courage, perseverance and ingenuity. It teaches us how to create something where nothing existed. It shows us we can make things.
Creative thinking is different than analytical thinking. When we engage in creative thinking we don't just come to conclusions--we make something and see if it works in the world. Analytical thinking helps us steer the ship. Creative thinking brings it home.
We need ingenuity now. We all need to find the artist within and nurture it. How else will we develop solutions to overpopulation, poverty, health care issues, energy and environmental problems? There's no need to spell this need out--even the illiterate can read the writing on the wall.
In the midst of our current mayhem we, as creative people, can step up. We can ignite and grow our own creativity through the practice of an art form. We can engage our kids in the arts and teach them to be creative thinkers. We're all inherently creative and we can and will create a new world, one artist at a time.
Cat Bennett is an artist, illustrator and writer. She is the author of The Confident Creative - Drawing to Free the Hand and Mind. This essay was originally published in the July 2010 Huffington Post.