“My goal,” said the Polish novelist Bruno Schulz, “is to ‘mature’ into childhood. That would be genuine maturity.” How many of us have the view that one matures into a childlike nature and that it’s a desirable goal to aim for? Or that one matures into childhood? Too often children are in a hurry to grow up and our culture is far more interested in creating them to do so because of a desire to turn children into consumers; after all, we live in a society where kids can name more logos of products than they can that of animals, plants or trees.
But what does Bruno Schulz mean by his statement?
In 1938, Schulz wrote to a friend:
What you say about our artificially prolonged childhood – about immaturity – bewilders me somewhat. Rather, it seems to me that this kind of art, the kind which is so dear to my heart, is precisely a regression, a return to childhood. Were it possible to turn back development, achieve a second childhood by some circuitous road, once again to have its fullness and immensity – that would be the incarnation of an “age of genius,” “messianic times” which are promised and pledged to us by all mythologies. My goal is to “mature” into a childhood. This really would be a true maturity.
The artist Picasso would agree with Schulz. He once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Picasso also said that, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Even his friend, the painter Marc Chagall delighted in saying, “I am a child who is getting on.”
Albert Einstein wrote, “To stimulate creativity one must develop childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.”
What do these artists and great thinkers see in childhood that so many of us are dismissive of, want to outgrow and condescendingly consider being childlike as immature or naive?
They understood that at the root of all thought that leads to art, to innovation, to spiritual growth and to being more creative. Why? Because to be childlike is to be continuously wondering. There is a never-ending curiosity to their inquiries that usually begin with the simple and profound, “Why?” Too often their questions are ended with parental exasperation. All children are artists, are scientists, are wonderers, are poets and explorers. So what happens to them?
Too often parents classify and categorize their children by saying things like, “This one’s my artist.” “This one’s my athlete.” “This one’s my scientist.” When a child hears that enough, they begin to believe that the adult knows something they don’t and begin to see themselves through the lens of how they are considered. What parents need to do instead is to simply encourage and allow their children to enjoy and explore possibilities. They need to let their kids draw and dance and dream and delight.
And adults need to do this as well. Too often we prize productivity over creativity. We have believed the categories we have been placed in. Like our kids, we have listened to some bumbling adult who tells us that we aren’t an artist . Both of my sons have come home, upset with an art teacher who has criticized their art and told them what they had created was “wrong.”
“Did you not follow the instructions?” I inquired.
“No,” my older son had replied, “we were just told to draw a landscape.”
“Those were your only instructions?”
“And what did she say was wrong with yours?”
“I made my tree purple,” he replied.
I was aghast. Taking three different art books off my shelf, I opened them up and showed them to my son. One was Picasso, the other Matisse and the last one was Chagall. I explained that they were all famous painters. Each one knew the other and, at one time, all three lived near each other. “Do any of their paintings look the same?” I asked my son.
“No,” he shook his head.
“No, they don’t. Even though each painting is a landscape, each one saw it differently. Chagall even painted a green goat and people floating in the sky. There is no wrong in art. Each artist sees the world differently and that’s what makes them great. If all of them painted like Picasso then only Picasso would be celebrated, but Matisse and Chagall didn’t. We need them to see the world differently to help us see the world differently. To see the world with new eyes.”
“Children do live in fantasy and reality,” Maurice Sendak once said, “they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.” Sendak, however, seemed to do so with ease and created such classics of children’s literature as Where The Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen.
We, all of us, need to return to play and exploration and curiosity.
We need to allow for daydreaming.
We need to allow for “mistakes,” which means we need to turn off our critical minds and simply delight in the act of creating.
We need to make room for surprise.
We need to attend to wonder.
We need to hold the capacity for joy.
We need to live in possibility.
Jim Henson said, “As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.” Oh that more of us would be so brave.