Orbiting the Giant Hairball is the kind of book that stays with you. I read it many years ago and still think of lessons from it. The author, Gordon McKenzie, worked at Hallmark, and the book explores his efforts to retain his independence and nurture his creativity within an often stifling bureaucratic organization.

In the most memorable story in the book McKenzie tells of his annual visit to an elementary school to share his art. He would start by presenting to the Kindergarten class and work his way up, talking to each grade level, all the way to the fifth-graders to finish the day. At each grade level he asked the students, “How many of you are artists?” Every Kindergarten student would quickly put a hand up. At the next class, though, a few first-graders did not raise a hand. A few more second-graders didn’t. Progressively, as he moved up in grade levels, fewer students raised a hand when he asked who were artists.

By fifth grade, no hands went up at his question. He then told the fifth-graders that every Kindergarten student had claimed to be an artist. “What is happening?” he asked them. “Are all the artists transferring out of this school?”

Of course, the point is something is happening to convince kids they are not artists. Parents or peers or teachers or culture or the system or some combination is turning off the default setting for creativity.

It’s on us to keep drilling back into the settings, our own settings and those of people we can impact, and turning back on the “I’m an artist” setting.

You don’t have to make a living off your art to be an artist. Just make something that only you can make – an experience, a photo, a meal, a poem or post, a song or video, a note to a friend. Express yourself. Make art. Go back to the Kindergarten default that you are an artist.

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