For the past few months, teaching has become a newfound passion for me. It all started when the pandemic offered me this wonderful opportunity to virtually teach art to kids in India while sitting in my apartment in New York. Every week I would be stressed about what to teach them but come Friday night when the class starts, and they gleefully chime “Good Morning Didi!” I forget everything, I forget how stressful the week has been, and I feel like I am engulfed in a bubble of love. While I got the chance to introduce them to phenomenal artists like Tagore, Mondrian, and Picasso they introduced me to a different kind of readiness.

They create fearlessly passionately without angst and self-doubt! It is so satisfying to watch them make plump white blobs by squeezing paint directly out of tubes, using thick wet brushes to make juicy strokes across the notebook, and skittering small brushes to make slashing red lines. When they declare that they are done with the assigned exercise, I ask them if they are following? “Yeh toh easy hai didi,” they say with a big smile. Few months into the class, this is a standard response for most of them! And if they don’t like what they make, they toss it in the bin, start over, and within thirty minutes, I am bombarded with WhatsApp images of new drawings going above and beyond what I taught them. The energy they radiate is contagious.

They are much more expressive and experimental than I am even today after over 15 years of training. They never let external limitations dictate their work; it’s this ‘jugaadu’ thinking that I am in love with. It reminds us to focus on the real requirements, the essence, and often leads to taking the mental leap that is required for a disruptive new design or product. It made me think about my own work in a new way. For all the world, I wish I could get that “can-do” spirit back as an adult. Kids truly are some of the best artists.They embody the essence of creativity that we as adults usually seem to find a way of burying under self-criticism and doubt.

As an art student and an architect, I have had the opportunity to study Picasso’s work on multiple occasions. But it is now that I fully understand what he meant when he said it took him a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child. This declaration by Pablo Picasso is reflective of a synonymy often bestowed between creative freedom and childishness. Coming from an artist whose genius is now near-universally acknowledged, the philosophy seems a wise one. The fact is, there appears to be a pervasive social disdain for anything we perceive as ‘easy.’ As much we like to say that all art is subjective and meant for self-expression, there’s a reason that the concept of being ‘cultured’ is considered synonymous with sophistry and some fundamental intellectual or social sense of superiority. We want, on some level, art to do something we cannot.

The child is the first artist. Out of the material around him, he creates a world of his own. The prototypes of the forms which he devises exist in life, but it is the thing which he himself makes that interest him, not its original nature. His play is his expression. However much we may appear to want our culture to be suitably highbrow and difficult, there’s still an emotional appreciation for works with the air of childishness threaded throughout our cultural consciousness.

There has to be a certain element of craziness, uncertainty, and space for serendipitous learning. Too much process will kill that creative spark. I may be teaching them art, but these kids are teaching me how to paint like a child on the canvas of my life. Let me paint that picture for you: A splash of red, a dash of blue, and a lot of smiles. 

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Shanaya Girdharlal

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