How Artists Played as Kids

I read, in the research I’m doing about play + creativity, about a study that was done to find out how creative people played as children. The theory was that more creative adults had made up imaginary worlds as children, often complete with made-up languages and flags and currency. Think a simpler version of The World of Donald Evans (Abbeville Press, 1994). They found that this was true—that creative people more often played this way as children—but that it was more common among an older generation of creatives; younger creatives grew up with 24-hour television channels and the internet and turned out to have been less involved in creative play. This was fascinating to me. I was allowed very little TV time unless I was sick. We never had a color TV, and the black-and-white ones we had were small and got poor reception. My parents were both makers and readers, and TV wasn’t a priority. So how did real-life creative people spend their free time when they were kids? I asked, and here are some of the fascinating answers. I guess I sort of expected most people to say they spent their childhoods drawing and making things, but it turns out they did all kinds of really fascinating stuff. Lots of people spent a huge part of their time outdoors, something that’s more and more difficult as woods and pastures are consumed by concrete.

Judy says, “I was fortunate enough to grow up on a farm in VT where there was abundant opportunity to lose myself in playing outside (99% of the time solo); discovering fabulous things that I collected. Over the years that collection has been lost, but that experience transferred into my love for natural ‘found objects’ playing a large part in my creating art today.” Linda says, “I spent a lot of time playing out doors- sometimes with friends sometimes alone. We made up games. Used junk for toys. I was always one for playing with sticks and dirt, lots of imagining. Taught myself a lot of different things. I believe it has taught me how to think outside the box when I look at things today.”

Marcie says, “My mom is also an artist, so I had a very ‘creative’ childhood…lots of freedom. Always allowed to play in her art supplies. We had a whole city of cardboard refrigerator boxes in our house that we were allowed to cut windows into, paint on, etc. I had a little brother and we did the whole ‘fort-building thing’ constantly! We lived on a farm, so exploring the barns and creeks and woods was an almost daily thing. We camped a lot as well, in a tent, no electricity. My mom would show us how to make leaf hats, daisy chains, mermaids out of the blue clay in the waterfalls at the one place where the clay was ACTUALLY robin’s- egg blue in color. We would leave the mermaids there for others to discover. My mom would give us food with creative names like “Santa-Claus food” and serve us pink or green mashed potatoes.”

A lot of people were like Laurie, who was lucky to have woods nearby but had plenty she liked to do inside, as well. She says, “I mostly played by myself. I could play in the woods during the cold months and my favorite thing to do was to explore them and make forts for myself. I spied on the older kids. I climbed trees and took my diary with me. I lay face down on the ground and imagined my tiny self walking among the blades of grass. When I was inside I loved to play board games and played against myself when there was nobody else. I made up word games and map games to play with the encyclopedias. I loved pattern and had these colorful plastic tiles that fit into a plastic grid. All these had enormous impact on my art/life – I still journal, take lots of photos of little nature details, love to explore, see patterns in everything, fall in love with trees, enjoy making books.”

On Wednesday we’ll look at some more of what people had to say about how they played as children. We’d love to hear about how your own childhood play has helped shape what you do today, too!

Declaration of You_160For more creative play and discovery, try The Declaration of You! by Jessica Swift and Michelle Ward.





Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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