Orbiting Hairballs

“Orbiting the Giant Hairball” was written by Gordon MacKenzie in 1996 and charts his 30 year journey in Hallmark Cards, where he moved from a humble cartoonist to a self-styled corporate holy man with the title of Creative Paradox.

I am quoting from Gordon’s book as he tells his experience of when he went into schools, where he demonstrated how he sculpted in steel. He would spend a whole day at the school taking each grade for 50 minutes. I pick up the story where he introduces himself to the students:

“Hi! My name is Gordon McKenzie and, among other things, I am an artist. I’ll bet there are other artists here, too. There have to be with all the beautiful pictures and designs you have hanging in your classrooms and up and down the halls. I couldn’t help but notice them when I first got here this morning.

“Beautiful pictures. They made me feel wonderful! Very energized. So many bright colours and cool shapes. I felt more at home when I saw them because they made me realize there are other artists here, beside me. I’m curious. How many artists are there in the room? Would you please raise your hands?”

The pattern of responses never varied.

First grade:
En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.
Second grade:
About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.
Third grade:
At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.

And so on up through the grades. The higher the grade, the fewer children raised their hands. By time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two did so and then only ever-so-slightly – guardedly – their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a “closet artist.”

I would describe to the sixth graders the different responses I had received from the other grade levels. Then I’d say:
“I’m afraid there’s something something sinister at work here. I think what’s happening is that you are being tricked out of one of the greatest gifts every one of us receives at birth. That is the gift of being an artist, a creative genius.”

The point now is: Every school I visited was participating in the suppression of creative genius.

Is this happening in every school? We are discouraging creativity at an early age with our desires to climb the league tables. What are the casualties? How do we protect the young geniuses from our well-meaning education?

More in the next part of my journey…

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