Guest contributor Heidi Miller Lowell teaches art and creative storytelling at The Austin Artery, where she draws upon current research in psychology and neurology in her work with children, teens, and adults.
I do not believe anyone who tells me they do not have a creative bone in their body. I usually translate that statement to mean, “Creativity is scary. I might make a mistake. Everyone will see it.” And they are completely right. Creativity is the ultimate act of vulnerability.
Creativity is our spirit and at the core of our heart. Each one of us has a valuable story to share that has the potential to change the world through the very act of making art and sharing our tale. Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” I know that these vulnerable seeds of creativity are waiting inside each of us for the right conditions to sprout.
We humans have an innate drive to tell our stories and connect. Throughout human history, we have strived to tell our stories, even before we had words for them. The earliest humans told their stories through pictures on cave walls. Even babies begin making their marks as soon as they are able. I will forever cherish the memory of watching my own daughter squeal with delight as she discovered her own power to make a mark as she held a paintbrush in her tiny hands for the first time.
Research shows that the happiest human beings are the ones who are connected and have community. For this reason, The Austin Artery cultivates creative storytelling and art-making communities. While technical skills are valuable, we believe that art and storytelling have something far more valuable to offer society. Art is a powerful tool for creating meaning, developing empathy, and furthering our education.
The Artery’s curriculum transforms “mistakes” from stumbling blocks into pathways to new opportunities. You cannot make the wrong choice. We use story prompts with a variety of media to create layered art pieces. These layers and lessons are metaphors for our life. Some psychologists believe that the stories and art we make, even when fictitious, create parallels to our life and provide opportunities for problem solving. Furthermore, X-rays show that Leonardo da Vinci painted 30 layers on the Mona Lisa. When we continue to explore with a variety of media and add layers to our art pieces, we develop persistence. The stories and art pieces can be more touching and stunning than anything we had initially envisioned.
Additionally, I want to honor each student’s unique stories and inspirations. This means that students at The Artery don’t follow a formula to create identical pictures. In this sense, there is a greater focus on the process and meaning behind each piece of art than on the product itself. This allows each artist to unfold at her/his own pace while developing a unique style and story.
This kind of approach is powerful because stories are how we think. They require structure, order, and clarity. Psychologists call this a script or mental model. We use stories and images to persuade others, market ourselves, create our identities, and teach social values. Stories also allow us to walk in someone else’s shoes briefly, increasing empathy.
Telling our stories and creating art are more important now than ever as our schools and society grapple with the issues of bullying and other violence. When we activate the right side of the brain and tell own our stories, we tap into the creativity that is the foundation for innovation, empathy, self-understanding, and change
We live in a world that is vastly different from that of the previous generations. We communicate globally and instantaneously. News is doled out in 140 characters. People love cat memes. However, that is not what we truly crave. We crave meaning, connection, and community. When individuals and organizations identify and nurture their creativity and core stories, they create something that others connect with and believe in. That is something that can create powerful change.
This is why I want to help you cultivate your creative side at The Austin Artery.
Heidi Miller Lowell