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Creating is not just a 'nice' activity; it transforms, connects and empowers
If we want a world full of innovative, entrepreneurial thinkers, we need to enable and sustain making from a very young age
My memories of childhood relate to stuff – smell, material and texture: digging up the garden to make heavy, grogged clay; melting wax crayons to make 3D shapes; building matchstick houses; casting plaster in Disney latex moulds; and cutting out. Always cutting, shaping and sticking.
Since then, I’ve studied, made and taught sculpture. I know what it feels like to submerge my hands and mind in making, occupied with the struggle to transform and connect material. Since 1995 I’ve been working with friend and colleague Sheila Ceccarelli through AccessArt to explore how we can enable making in others. We’ve seen over and over again how making transforms people, just like makers transform materials.
It feels so fundamentally good and right to use our hands to manipulate materials – to use tools to extend our ability; to put stuff out into the world. The urge to alter our environment is part of our genetic makeup. The skill of making lies latent within all of us.
We now know that creativity is good for the economy too. The UK creative industries generate £84.1bn a year and account for 2.8 million jobs. It’s the fastest-growing sector of the economy.
It’s looking good for makers.
It’s looking good for makers.
We work a lot in schools and see 10-year-olds who can’t use scissors. We see art squeezed into obedient slots that require no mess, quick results and easy success. We see children who have never had to solve the problem of a sculpture that doesn’t balance; never had an argument with a lump of stuff; and never learnt the need to rebuild.
We see children who have never felt success from using a tool to help them manipulate material, never felt the pride of producing something for others and never felt the optimism of daring to ask: “would it work if … ?”
Somehow, somewhere along the line, making became seen as a “nice” activity, but one we could do without.
So are we really preparing our children for their creative futures? There are so many reasons not to make and we need to talk about them. Let’s get the reasons our children aren’t making out in the open.
- It takes time and energy: making with a class of 30, or even a household of one or two, can be exhausting.
- There’s enough to be getting on with: pressure from other subjects means making and the arts can get squeezed out.
- Homework encroaches on spare time at home, which could be spent making.
- It creates mess: wouldn’t it be nice if we could make like a singer sings, without the mess to clear up afterwards?
- Making can be risky: a child might burn their finger on a glue gun or cut themselves with a saw.
- There’s enough stuff in the world: do we really need to make more?
- Making uses resources: aren’t we meant to be trying to use less?
- We don’t need to make to survive: we generally buy what we need, so we don’t need to learn the skills first-hand any more.
- We don’t need to make to entertain ourselves: in the past we might have kept our hands and eyes busy with making in our spare time, but now we occupy ourselves through binary code.
But when we give children the time and space to make – and present them with a pile of materials – they fall to it with such a will. The appetite to make is there, even when no one speaks of it.
Making connects the hand, eye and brain in a very special way. It’s empowering for both maker and viewer. The act of making is optimistic; it’s an act of faith. People of all ages feel better for doing it.
Making can also be very social – conversations can meander while hands are kept busy. But it can also be very personal and give confidence to children who listen to their own internal monologue that takes place as they make in solitude.
If we want a world full of creative, entrepreneurial thinkers, we need to enable and sustain making from a very young age. Not all of us will become sculptors or engineers or designers, but we will become more connected, rounded and creative people.
So while making may sometimes seem inconvenient, we need to find the time, space and resources to make it happen.
Paula Briggs is director of AccessArt and author of Drawing Projects for Childrenand Make, Build, Create: Sculpture Projects for Children
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