Every Child is an Artist

Having just returned from Burning Man at Black Rock Desert in Nevada, I thought it would be pertinent to draw some reflexions from that high energy mass event. In this post I will only use the event as a canvas for thoughts related to creativity, but I promise I will get back to the actual event in a later post – after I have edited and processed the pictures I took in Black Rock Desert.

Burning Man is a very special festival, and a lot can be said about it, but one thing that really struck me was the incredible amount of creative burst being emitted all over the place during those intense days in the desert. Burners – as they are called – put a lot of energy into creating their different camps and they build installations and works of art – some of them huge and quite impressive – on the so-called Playa, which lies in the centre of this huge temporary city that is created out in one of the most hostile environments one can imagine. Burners made performances, they gave lectures, and they made all kinds of fun arrangements for other Burners. And most evidently they used themselves as creative expressions, applying clothes, apparels, hair design, lights, constructions to strap on themselves or just make-up and lots of colours. It was very playful, and it seems like Burning Man brings out the child in every participant. And that is exactly where I want to go with this post.

Creativity requires that we open up to our child inside of us again. As we grow out of childhood, we lose our ability to boil over with that spontaneous, childish creativity. As grownups we need to behave and we need to conform to the norms of the society. And in doing so, we lose this wonderful creativity that every one of us has experience and held in our souls as children.

«Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up». Those are the words of none other than Pablo Picasso; one who indeed was able to keep the child within him alive.

How do the rest of us keep that child in us alive? There is no easy answer to the question. But for a starter; let go of all those inhibitions adulthood has imposed upon us. Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. Take joy in all those small moments life presents to us around every corner. Be curios. Be blissful. And express all your inherent creativity as often as you can, not thinking about what others will think about it and not thinking about whether you know how to do it or not. Create with joy and excitement!

«What most people need more than anything is to unlearn what they’ve learned, to be less serious about everything and anything that otherwise contributes to their stress, because they futilely attempt to achieve some ridiculously lofty standard.» This is Lorenzo Dominques and the quote is taken from his highly successful book 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about Photography…Life.

He continues: «When you can integrate play into your work somehow, when you can laugh at all your mistakes, when you find yourself smiling for most of the day, then you’ll find that you’re achieving something worthwhile. If you can’t whistle while you work, if you’re consistently miserable while you toil, than maybe it is time that you either change careers or change your attitude (at least, until you find a new job).»

Maybe you don’t need to change career. But if you want to get back to that blissful creative feeling you had in you all the time as a kid, it’s really time to bring that child out again, be less serious about yourself, and simply have more fun. Don’t you think?


101 thoughts on “Every Child is an Artist

  1. Thank you for reminding us that scenes like Burning Man are out there. But, better yet, that creativity is “in there” – that it resides within and can use a jump start from “without.” Great stuff. Great image! – Renee

  2. I am lucky in that I’ve never lost that childlike thrill of being alive and fully in touch with my senses. Many days I catch myself with a silly smile and wonder if most of the world wonders if I am on drugs! It’s a natural high, a gift, and I am so grateful for whatever recipe contributed to my natural happiness! Thanks for pointing out how important it is to have that childlike happiness, and to strive to reclaim it again. Z

      1. with great pleasure i am proud to be uninhibited and soar through each day with a childlike anticipation!


        i keep an internal compass tweaked in the direction of bolivia, but i know that this year i will not be able to make that trip. i’ll be there in spirit for sure!

  3. Great words of advice.

    Perhaps that’s why I am happier now that I’ve had to take early retirement.
    I can be the person I always wanted to be as a child (but was strictly & conservatively brought up).
    When I was working I still had to conform to other’s wishes.

    Now in enforced retirement, I have the freedom to be Me.

    It’s so liberating to be in control of one’s life and everyday routine.

  4. Otto, I was wondering why we hadn’t heard from you in a while and all this time you having fun at Burning Man! I am so excited, and envious, that you were there and can’t wait to hear more.

  5. Yes, most of the grown ups have inhibitions about expressing themselves. We forget how we enjoyed ourselves during those creative moments and the immense joy we got out of it.
    I wonder whether, as a parent, I am giving all the required freedom to my kids now (though I try my best). We expect perfection in their works and keep on criticising/correcting them, which in turn blows out their enthusiasm. The same happened during my childhood. I never dared to show my creations to my father who is wonderful artist – he always started with pointing out the flaws. The one-line appreciation in the end was of no use.
    Loved this post!

    1. There is a very fine balance between encouragement and trying to teach our kids. It can easily tip the wrong way and indeed blow their enthusiasm as you point out.

  6. “…it’s really time to bring that child out again, be less serious about yourself, and simply have more fun…”

    Yup, I totally agree with your thoughts, Otto…see you guys at the playground!!! 😉

      1. Haha, great, Otto!! You mentioned soccer? Okay, I am sure we can find a few in the blogosphere waiting to start up a game…you would have to be our captain! 🙂 LOL!!

  7. As we grow we are ‘taught’ to behave in socially acceptable manners and it is the willful child that upsets the societal applecart according to the elders. Unfortunately it is the elders that miss the mark. If we are taught to love what we do and do what we love instead of conform, conform the world would be a better place.
    A willful child (now a happily artistic adult still marching to a different beat)

    Thanks for the introspective Otto, as always you share beautiful pearls.

  8. Sometimes my laugh at my mistakes are my best shots. I agree with the chiid, we never do grow up do we. Keeping in touch with that child is key. I haven’t always thought of staying a child I photography when often a lost photo film or broken camera can do the opposite. There is always another chance down the road. Isn’t there?

    1. Nothing like a mistake to bring the child out, if we are only perceptive and don’t worry about making a foul out of ourselves. Yes, chance always present themselves, don’t they?

  9. Bravo, Otto. Thank you for reminding us all to be children again. In being curious. In being wiling to discover and learn something new. In never ceasing to wonder. In being able to will the impossible. In believing in the world.

  10. Keeping the child alive, this is the game. And in order to do that we have to let him play, to play with him. And we also have to feed him. Visiting exhibitions, speaking with other people (possibly the ones whose a child inside is alive!), feeling emotions. And not being afraid of others judgement helps. Thanks Otto for reminding this.
    PS: about the Burning Man, please share some pics for your friends who cannot attend !

  11. As usual your comments are poignant and life affirming. Years ago I became enamored with some German toys that are called Surprise Eggs. As I collected these children’s puzzle and play things, I was reminded of the child in me. Snoopy and his gangs depicted in cartoons are another source of mind playfulness for me. These small but significant pieces of childhood and adulthood can easily prompt our inner child. I am in full agreement that we need to encourage a balance in our view of life. This juggling of selves helps the adult and parent parts of us see differently.

  12. I work with psychiatric patients once a week, instructing (guiding) creative expression (visual art experiences). And, each week I come home thrilled with the joy that creating will bring if we just take a little time, throw off expectations and give creativity a chance. So, I couldn’t agree with you more Otto!

  13. This was perfect! A much needed message to the most of us. Thank you Mr. Munchow for sharing your thoughts. Being open, cool as whistling while at work? Oh! I can’t imagine. The fear of what people might think if I do that… Well, we don’t really do what we WANT to do. Smile all you day, laugh at your mistakes.. makes me ponder. Thanks once again.

    1. It’s a process to de-learn what the conformed society has taught us, but it’s very worth while. If we could smile all day long, what a liberating feeling that would be. No?

  14. Excellent thoughts. How nice it would be to go back to that point in time when we had never heard criticism, whether it came from a parent, teacher, friend or self. That is when we are most creative. You suggest many good ways to reach back toward that center of our creativity—thanks!

  15. I have always liked this quote by Picasso. I have had the opportunity to take workshops with playful instructors and they really helped me to experiment and have fun while keeping an eye on design elements. As I watch children stop in their tracks to explore something that catches their attention, I have taken my cues from them and do the same thing and try to look at an object from as many different perspectives as I can.I remind myself constantly to play with my photography and not immediately discount the photo as garbage once I have taken it. But despite this, I came home from vacation and realized I had still taken a LOT of pretty snapshots. Yours is a fresh look at the positives of the Burning Man and I look forward to seeing your photos from the festival.

  16. I agree wholeheartedly however, I often need reminding. Pablo Picasso had a huge influence over me as a youngster and you quoted my favourite quote of his. I’m looking forward to seeing the images from “The Burning Man”. Hopefully we will see some of your playfulness.

  17. I agree with your post very much, and think Picasso’s quote is very true. In my research on yoga history recently, I did come across a quote that speaks to the inner ‘child’ in a slightly different way – with more structure one could say. Georg Feuerstein, yoga scholar, quotes Cicero in his Orator, “To be ignorant of what happened before one was born is to remain ever a child.” A different perspective and topic altogether, but it really hit home for me. Thanks for making me think!

  18. Yes Yes Yes.
    Love the quotes especially Picasso’s «Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up»
    and Lorenzo Dominques’s (I must get hold of that book)
    <<If you can’t whistle while you work, if you’re consistently miserable while you toil, than maybe it is time that you either change careers or change your attitude (at least, until you find a new job).»

  19. When you first mentioned you were going to Burning Man I chuckled. I’ve never been, but it’s such an interesting and intriguing place–where the action is! People spend all year getting ready for that creative experience. Good for you! I totally agree with you about letting go and being wiling to change perspectives and see life as a child. I made a conscious choice to move in new directions with the birth of my first grandchild. I wanted to experience life with her! And it was indeed a life-giving experience. I always look forward to hearing from you, Otto. You affirm the fact that we can change, and that creativity is in each of us just waiting to be tapped! 🙂 Debra

  20. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Who sings these lines:
    “But I was so much older then…
    And I’m so much younger now.”

    That’s key. Playing is like applying moisture to the clay.

  21. Hi Otto, I agree with you completely. Every child is an artist. I also believe that every adult can be an artist, if as you said, he can access the creative, free spirit of the child within his soul. The key is this line from your post, “Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself.” So true! And what is a “fool” but someone else’s label for a person not well understood.

    I think it’s important to ponder the issues you raise. Why is it that as adults we so often lose our creative spirit? I’m an artist by nature, and I think the biggest obstacle I struggle with is to get things “right.” Yet at the same time, I believe there is no right in art. There is only art. A beautiful expression of emotion. I guess it all comes down to letting go, and trusting that inner voice.

    You are a photographer, Otto, and when you take your pictures — which are wonderful — what subjects do you find make you the happiest? The most free? Is it pictures of people smiling? Or landscapes? From what vantage point do you best access your own creative spirit?

    1. Thanks for sharing your insight. And I believe you are right, excuse the pun, that getting things «right» is shattering the spirit of creativity. What brings my creativity running when I am photographing? Photographing people in their natural environment – and not necessarily smiling. I think my best access to the creative spirit, is when I stop thinking and just do.

  22. I agree agree with you completely. Too many people have never even seen there creative side. I have no idea how to relate to people who never create anything. There is no joy in their life.

    Burning man sounds like a lot of fun! I hope you post loads of pics from it.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Creativity and joy, two faces of the same coin, no? As to Burning Man, no I didn’t take loads of pictures, I was to busy having fun…

  23. First, I just love the image of the guy. He looks so happy. Second, there are so many things that we can learn from children and their art. I have recently thought about children and composition. How many times have you heard someone talk about a certain child’s photography? Often times they are right. However, what occurs several years later when the same child is older and their photography begins to look the same as everybody else? The only difference is that with age the child as grown and their perspective has become more normal and boring. This is why perspective is so important to us as photographers. It allows us to view something in ways that we normally don’t.

    1. I have seen various project involving kids photographing, and they have all been quite stunning. Yes, the danger is when the child grow up and its perspective become more normal – and thus boring, as you point out.

  24. How true! When the child in us vanishes, the spontaneity goes too and that is one of the first requirements of creativity. When we have to labour over what we want to write, paint, click and create, the effort shows and the joy somehow goes missing.

  25. Have More Fun! Yes I Like that :+) I agree children are wonderful examples of creativity and Joy and being in the moment. I find for myself doing the things in my life that attend to my emotional health and well being. Learning about happiness and to allow for Joy and like you said to be spontanous. I think being spontanous helps a lot because it introduces the idea of fun and being in the moment.
    The image is wonderful a great example of Joy his smile is infectious.:+)

  26. It’s criticism, or the fear of it, that kills the creativity within the child as we move from childhood delights to adult “responsibilities”. The child runs to Mom with crayon scribblings in hand to proudly show off what he knows is perfection. The wise Mom instantly agrees and posts the artwork on the refrigerator door. The insensitive person, too often a teacher, holds up a child’s work to the class and says, “That was supposed to be a cat. That doesn’t look anything like a cat.” Poof, joy of creativity gone, sometimes forever. I personally know someone who was crushed that way. Creativity is fragile, at least in the beginning. Burning Man is a manifestation of creativity unleashed. And appreciated.

    1. Sounds like you have found your purpose in life. I have been to the old town of Århus many a time, and it’s really a lovely place. As for myself, I am only slightly younger than you and I find that I am becoming more and more childish with age.

  27. Well said, Otto. I too believe in that quote of Pablo Picasso. We all need to bring that child in us come out. Because that’s when more than much caring about the output of the process, we would start enjoying the creative process we are involve with.
    As always great post for all of us who are now in love with one creative form or other. 🙂

  28. I agree 100%. If I think and feel like an adult, I probably would have a heart attack long time ago. My son, through his eyes, I am reminded of what it is to see and colors the world through a child’s eye. I gives me hope that I can find that inner joy once again. Yes, less to stress and more to fun!

  29. So true and being around kids helps a lot… I’d encourage it too. I have a friend who goes to Burning Man in Nevada! Hope you enjoyed it this year… 🙂

  30. Yes, I do think, Otto, and yes, I also believe every child is an artist (perhaps because every child is themselves, the most pure form of love and art?) Thoughtful, excellent post!

  31. So enjoy your photo of simple uninhibited joy at the beginning of your post. The inhibitions that have been learned and reinforced by adults (and peers too) are difficult to put aside …but it can be done and is well worth the effort to do so. Very freeing in so many ways. I, too, have found it easier to lose the inhibitions and become more creative when I received the gift of my grandchildren and feel that this is actually the best and happiest period of my life so far. Childhood seemed to involve too many “you can do better than this” or “you’re not working up to your potential” comments from the people who meant the most. Teen years and twenties seemed to be spent trying to conform and fit in and the thirties and forties to “making a living, wishing for tomorrow, and not living in the present”. Of course, there were always periods of creativity squeezed in. Now on the verge of turning 60, I can say that even though the body seems to age, inside one is as young and often younger than before. Peace has come with being better able to enjoy each day for what it is and looking for the bliss of the everyday moment. Thank you for the inspirational posts that seem to come at just the right time.

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