How many artists are there in the room?
This is the question that Gordon MacKenzie, a longtime creative at Hallmark Cards, would ask while visiting schools.
The response was always the same.
In the first grade, all kids would leap from their seats and raise their hands.
In the third grade, roughly 10 out of 30 kids would raise their hands.
By the sixth grade, only one or two would reluctantly raise their hands—while others in the class looked around to see who would admit to such deviance.
“Children enter school as question marks,” writes Neil Postman, and “leave as periods.” Most schools don’t teach creativity. They unteach it. Kids unlearn how to make art, they unlearn how to speak up, and they unlearn how to take initiative and ask good questions.
Instead, students are compelled to memorize someone else’s answers to someone else’s questions. They are rewarded for thinking like the teacher, thinking like the school board, or thinking like the textbook author—not thinking for themselves or questioning what they learn.
Things only get worse as we grow up. As student loans and mortgages begin to mount, we forget how to get messy, how to dance with uncertainty, and how to create things that didn’t exist before.
Our vocabulary reflects this shift.
We don’t even call it art anymore. We call it content. A part of me dies inside when someone calls themselves a content creator.
Content is something you stuff inside a bag. It’s something you produce on an assembly line. No one wants to get up in the morning and read “content” over coffee. And no truly self-respecting creator wants to generate “content” either.
Because content is normal. Content is fungible. Content creators can be replaced. Artists can’t.
Here’s the thing: Art isn’t just something that poorly compensated creatives do inside a studio. As long as you’re reimagining the status quo, anything you do can be art.
The new strategy you design at work is art.
The way you raise your children is art.
The way you decorate your home is art.
The way you talk, the way you smile, the way you live your life—it’s all art.Names matter—much more than you might assume. This is called priming. The exposure to a word or an image can have a powerful influence on the mind.
If you call your creations content or if you refuse to think of yourself as an artist, the results will reflect that mindset. What you create will be ordinary. You’ll reinforce the status quo. You’ll bore people to tears. And you’ll be wildly out of touch with a rapidly evolving world that requires all of us to be artists.
You may not realize it, but there’s an artist in you—that inner first grader who would leap from their seat when asked “How many artists are there in the room?”
“Every child is an artist,” Pablo Picasso once said. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
So take out your metaphorical crayons and finger paint.
Your blank canvas is waiting for you.
What will you create?