“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso

I was thinking about this famous quote last week when I watched my daughter play an electric guitar for the first time.

She sat quietly in her fuzzy chair as I adjusted the controls on my small Peavey Rage amplifier and showed her how to place her fingers on the neck to make a power chord.

“Let ‘er rip,” I said.

She did. And when the fuzztone-drenched sound boomed out of the amp and echoed throughout the room, her eyes grew wide and a smile almost as big as the guitar itself stretched across her face. She spent the next 30 minutes in silence as she played around with different sounds, banging, strumming, plucking and sliding the pick across the strings.

I will never forget that look on her face, partly because it reminded me of how I felt when I got my first electric guitar at age 13. And I hope that, unlike myself, she doesn’t let self-doubt and frustration with the instrument get in her way of enjoying the sheer pleasure of creating.

We all have that unadulterated pleasure at some point, whether it’s through writing, painting, drawing, playing an instrument or other artistic endeavor. We create not because we’re seeking approval or money or fame. We create for creation’s sake. And if others happen to like it, that’s fine.

But somewhere along the way, we lose that spark. Instead of creating for pleasure, we come to believe that it’s only worthwhile if we’re good at it. That while the arts and music are noble pursuits, they’re not as important as learning a trade and making money. And that you have to learn the “proper” way to create art, or it’s not going to be any good.

It’s a concept that’s reinforced in the schools, where the arts are often the first to fall victim to the budget ax and schools are judged not on producing well-balanced, adjusted children, but on test scores. The message is that if you don’t excel in math and science, you don’t have a chance of making it in the “real world.”

So we put down our paintbrushes and our drawing pens, and we let our musical instruments sit in a case under the bed or in a corner untouched, because there are more important things to do. And we let that creative spark dim until it finally flickers out.

I’m not saying that everyone should give up their jobs and become an artist full time. Even those who make a living at the arts will be the first to tell you that having a strong business acumen and financial know-how is critically important to having a successful career.

But we shouldn’t abandon the joy of creating just because we won’t all become professional artists. And we shouldn’t let someone else’s notion of the “proper” way to create get in our way of the joy of creating for creation’s sake.

I didn’t tell my daughter what to do with the guitar. I didn’t tell her that she shouldn’t let the strings buzz, or that she shouldn’t use her thumb on the frets, or that this chord fits better with this other chord.

I just let her play. And I let her feel the joy of playing.

As Picasso said, every child is an artist. Let’s help keep them that way.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

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Twitter: RHarmonPPH