“Creativity is just connecting things. [Creative people are] able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
– Steve Jobs
Think different. Apple introduced this slogan in a 1997 ad campaign, and it still appears on iPad and Mac packages today. Meanwhile, Apple continues to be one of the most creative, and profitable, companies in the world.
Wouldn’t different thinking be a great gift to give a child? And how do you do that?
One recent way we tried: apples.
What does an apple look like?
If asked to draw an apple, most of us would make something similar: a somewhat circular red object with a little brown stem at the top, maybe accompanied by a green leaf.
That’s what art teacher Lindsey Esola finds when she asks her fourth grade class to draw their own apples. And it’s the starting point for an entire semester of creative thinking, mixed with an intro to art history. I first read about this in David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt’s book, The Runaway Species: How human creativity remakes the world, and decided to recreate the activity with my kids.
What you’ll need:
- Paper: I cut a bunch of roughly 6-inch squares, but up to you.
- Coloring supplies: Markers, crayons, paint, water colors, etc.
- Other materials to stimulate: glitter, stickers, yarn, and whatever else you’ve got in your art drawer.
- Art books with famous artists or styles, or an internet connection.
Everyone started with a piece of paper and a table full of supplies. Then the simple instruction: “Okay, everyone draw an apple.”
While my kids got to work, I drew a standard red apple on my square. I was pleasantly surprised that neither of my kids drew standard red apples on theirs. A good start.
And things were about to get even more interesting.
How else could an apple look?
After looking at each other’s drawings and noting similarities and differences, I asked “What other ways could we draw an apple?”
Confused faces. So I pointed toward the table full of supplies. They mentioned different colors, and cutting the papers into apple shapes. Then we got out the art books.
We started with Picasso’s classic cubist paintings.
After flipping through several pages and commenting on what we liked and didn’t like, everyone got a new square of paper with modified instructions: “Let’s draw a new apple, thinking about how Picasso might have done it.
We all hopped in the Spanish painter’s mind, and here’s what we came up with:
Next we moved to the impressionist styles of Monet and Van Gough.
Same thing: flipped through some pages, and encouraged the kids to describe what they saw. We each took a minute to think about what an apple would look like in this style. And then back to the drawing board:
Next we spiraled through the surrealist paintings of Dali and the unique approaches of my favorite artist M.C. Escher.
This triggered some rather bizarre looking apples.
Yes—our standard apple lens was successfully distorted.
Of course you can get as creative as you want with this. And I was ready to introduce different styles, materials, and techniques—like collage, 3D sculptures, and mixed mediums.
But after a few rounds, my kids were ready for something else. Pillow fighting, I think it was. Fair enough.
But they both agreed that it was pretty cool and that they wanted to explore more styles in the future.
Planting the apple seeds of creativity
A few weeks after we first did this, my youngest grabbed a piece of paper on his own and started drawing.
Somewhere he’d learned about pointillism. At school, I assume, though he couldn’t quite remember. He was still thinking about our apples project and was curious to apply his new pointillism lens. And after a very concentrated session, here’s what he proudly showed me:
I feel we’ve just barely scratched the surface of possibilities with this one. And of course exploring variations on an apple theme is just a starting point toward building a creative mindset.
Eagleman and Brandt have elsewhere outlined 3 ways to help kids be more creative:
- Use the past as a launching pad to imagine the future. Absorb what’s been done before, then recombine the best bits to project new possibilities.
- Explore many, many options. Don’t stop after your first idea. Proliferate options to find what works best.
- Encourage creative risk-taking. Most problems don’t have a single answer. And the best innovations come from breaking the mold and exploring the path less taken.
And as Eagleman and Brandt said in their book:
“An education in creativity lies in the sweet spot between unstructured play and imitating models.”
Enough imitating for today. It’s time to go play.