An elementary guide to the creative process

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“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be–and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway…A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” – Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

At the elementary school my son attended and my daughter currently attends, one of the major projects the 4th grade kids participate in revolves around the American presidents. Each child chooses a president to research and present. It’s a pretty big deal. My son chose Dwight D. Eisenhower, my daughter chose James Madison.

Each student will present, in full costume, facts about their president. Since girls are given the option of dressing as the first lady, my daughter will be Dolley Madison. They are also required to create a visual representation of their president through some type of artistic medium. My son chose a poster. He’s easy like that.

My daughter decided she would make James Madison out of clay. She’s creative like that. I tried to talk her out of it, telling her that while I could help her paint a picture of him, I have zero knowledge of working with clay, and with the exception of a couple of rudimentary clay projects in art class, neither did she. So, yeah. She opted to make James Madison out of clay. She’s stubborn like that. (She must take after her father.)

What I came to realize while helping her with the project is that the creative process is very similar regardless of the medium.

It's often messy

It's sometimes very messy

Sometimes what's in your head doesn't translate well...

and you have to start anew from scratch.

There comes a point in the process where you must give up the pursuit of perfection and trust your vision of the end result. No matter how ugly the work in progress appears to be.

Perfection should not be the goal of the creative process. Rather, the goal is to convey a concept, and interpretation or representation from the artist to her audience.

I think this process varies from person to person. What is your process? Do you have one, or does it just sort of happen?

P. S. -- Does that James Madison bust remind you of anyone? Just a little? "

“James Madison loves Harry Potter!” – Jeff Hogan

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20 Responses to “An elementary guide to the creative process”

  1. Annie K May 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    I made an ashtray out of clay in like the 3rd grade as a Mother’s Day gift. My mom didn’t smoke. Neither did my dad for that matter. That was my one and only creative foray into sculpting clay.

    • katdish May 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

      I once made a God’s eye for my mom when I was in the 4th grade. She thought it was a pot holder. She got as much use out of it as your parents probably got out of the ash tray.

  2. Alise May 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Love it!

    When I was in elementary school, I did a report on Abraham Lincoln. I decided to just go ahead and dress as him and delivered my presentation as a monologue. It was very impressive and my dad, who had been a theater major, helped me make the best costume ever, complete with stovepipe hat and beard.

    I guess I’ve always been a bit subversive.

    • katdish May 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

      Snort! Apparently so.

  3. Maureen May 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    No fair putting that last image up (though I must admit it made me lol).

    So Madison was 5′ 4″ and weighed 100 lbs? That’s the first time I’ve seen those facts in a history book. And what, I wonder, do they matter. We’ve had issues with history books in Virginia but I don’t think height and weight are among them.

    • katdish May 9, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

      Maureen – My daughter also informed me that his wife Dolley was a smoker, but she said she didn’t think she should use candy cigarettes as part of her costume. Good call, I think.

  4. Eric May 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Love the comparison at the end! But hey, for having nobody in the house with “clay experience” I think she did a great job! Though I do remember in fourth grade we did some clay work and it seemed that no matter what anyone was trying to create they all came out looking like the aforementioned (Annie K) ashtray.

  5. seekingpastor May 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    That’s pretty awesome. And they do look alike. Which is even more awesome.

  6. Kathleen May 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    I’m laughing and applauding. Love the mess, the effort, the end result. Tell your daughter she gets the bouquet ahead of time, the one thrown from the audience. 🙂 Takes me back…..and back….then back some more.

  7. Candy May 10, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Stubborn like her father? Hahaha. She didn’t want a painting because she wanted to do it herself. I love the sculpture, but before I scrolled down far enough I was thinking Muppet – the grocer guy from 30 years ago. Priceless – save that one in the memory tote.

  8. V.V. Denman May 10, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    Great post. You have a very creative daughter. It reminds me of all the projects I had to do it school back in the day. Isn’t it interesting how your children are so different? I still can’t get used to that. It’s cool.

  9. James Williams May 10, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    I like how your Madison came out.

    Our kids’ project (I have two 9 yr olds) is to make a bridge out of popsicle sticks. It has to hold a certain amount of weight, to be tested in class with actual barbells. The most successful kids are going to be the ones with the dads who are engineers. Not sure how they are learning anything, but still, we will somehow make it happen. It’s consuming our lives these last couple of weeks, though.

  10. Simply Darlene May 10, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    The aforementioned ignorance and arrogance duo seems to work most easily for folks under 5 and over 85. Hmmm, they’re also the same age groups that can get away with wearing a yellow smiley face shirt, plaid pants, and mismatched socks in their sandals.

    I love this quote, “Perfection should not be the goal of the creative process. Rather, the goal is to convey a concept, and interpretation or representation from the artist to her audience.”


  11. Robin Arnold May 10, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    I consider it my personal duty to buy handmade pots, statues, or creative stretches when I see them in a thrift store (wondering what sneakery was involved in them getting there). I’d totally buy your daughter’s Dobby Madison.

    • katdish May 10, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      Dobby Madison. Ha!

  12. Hazel Moon May 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Yes, your daughter is creative and the sculpture is an excellent likeness!
    I did make an ashtray for father’s day one year from clay. At that time my dad did smoke and we all received the second hand kind. 🙂 My post today is about Bossy our cow when I was 4.
    She was real not made of clay. Maybe clay feet!

  13. SarahBee May 11, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I just choked on my coffee!
    I was going along, thinking deep thoughts about the creative process and trusting your instincts when I kept scrolling and saw Dobby. That was awesome. I think James Madison turned out pretty well.

  14. Helen May 11, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    She is very brave to try something new. I think the likeness is very good.

    I once did a puppet show for a report on Stonewall Jackson when I was in High School. The teacher was not impressed. I did the report from the point of view of his horse. I think your daughter’s idea is way better! Is she going to bring donuts to pass out during the presentation?

    • katdish May 11, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Oh, Helen! I’ll bet that report was awesome. And I think some snack cakes might improve her grade. Something to consider.

  15. Michelle DeRusha May 14, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Wow, I am seriously impressed by your daughter’s sculpture — and by your willingness to embrace the risky creative process instead of insisting she go the safe route.

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