In life we often have to fit in. We need to conform to certain roles in order to make friends, get a job, and be successful. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, a sense of belonging is integral to our happiness. But the fact is most of us need more. We need to stand out as well. We want to be individuated from others and have our truly unique potentials realized.
Now becoming an individual is about creativity not conformity. We don’t just pass on what others give to us and obey authority: we rearrange and remake in light of our own unique perspectives, imagination, experience, and ideas. But where are we to learn to be more creative so we can express these ideas? Much of education is about memorization and much of society is about being like someone else. Finding someone who can help us be creative is rare. Therefore we must be grateful when one appears.
My mother, Nancy Goodyear, is someone whose life has been in large part dedicated to helping people realize their individuality through creativity. In her many years as a celebrated art teacher she enabled students to experience making something unique. Year after year I saw the excitement in her students as they came to celebrate their unique creations in her annual art shows.
Art helped them realize that, despite the many ways they fit in, they can also stand out as individuals. Of course, the creative process is not always easy. Certain skills are necessary and the failure that comes along with experimentation is inevitable. But my mother’s amazing interdisciplinary lessons and compassionate demeanor provided the necessary skills and support. These skills and support extended beyond her local community as well: in 1999 she received a Fulbright Scholarship to bring her unique pedagogy to Japan to help their education system incorporate more creativity. Here is a wonderful poster she made for one her art shows:
I have had the good fortune of growing up with this creative guidance. My first memory of this guidance came when I was 4. I was drawing a “sleestak” – a lizard man from the TV series Land of the Lost – and I got very angry because I made a mistake in my representation. But my mom suggested I see my perceived mistake as an opportunity to do something new with the image: to go beyond the known into the unknown. This was my first encounter with the distinction between, on the one hand, a prefixed idea to which a medium must conform and, on the other hand, an idea that serves as a guide for a creation whose final form is only discovered by working with the materials. This wise advice to think as a fine artist has been a constant guide in my life which hasn’t – surprise – always conformed to my prefixed plans.
But we must not forget the other two factors I mentioned: skills and support. When I was 7, I wanted to play drums and would attempt to do so by assembling boxes and, well, hitting them. But my mother knew that certain skills were necessary so she enrolled me in lessons which enabled me to really play. When I wanted to be a martial artist, she enrolled me in lessons rather than allowing me to simply run around the yard in a state of make believe. And when I would fail she was always supportive. By the time I was an adult, I had a respect for the creative process, for the hard work it entailed, and the comforting realization that I had someone who loved me and supported my efforts. By virtue of possessing these things, I was able to realize my intellectual and musical potentials and feel a profound state of fulfillment. Not the fulfillment that comes from buying or selling, but the indescribable satisfaction of creation. I owe my ability to experience this satisfaction in large part to my Mom.
For me, one of my mother’s most inspirational messages is simple: do your best to pursue creative pursuits, develop the necessary skills to do so, and, more importantly, help others do so as well. If you do this for yourself and others you will help make the world a better place of individuals rather than copies.
Love you Mom!