Artists. Are you a hunter in a farmers world? | Can we survive in a non creative system?

I can still vividly remember the cold dread of it. The shiny white plastic desks. The curled corner laminated yellowing posters on the walls. The vague smell of wee coming from the boys toilets next door. The icy squeeze of fear around my heart. The sinking feeling at the beginning of each lesson, knowing I would never be able to follow what was going on. Gazing out of the window across the playing fields to the trees beyond and wishing I was anywhere but here. .. This was C Block. My school maths classroom…

But there is another school room I remember. Full of light and interest. A calm place, with bunches of strange dried flowers in pots. Shelves of ceramics. Bright colour on the walls. Palettes stacked in the sink for washing and a smell not unlike baking eminating from the warm kiln. The school art room. My spiritual home…

Did you get into trouble at school for…

  • Day dreaming
  • Not concentrating
  • Fidgeting

Did you feel like an outsider.?

Another brick in the wall

Many artists have a very difficult time in the schools system. The education system is primarily there to create a compliant workforce for offices, factories and the industrial system. We often don’t fit in but we are made to feel that it is us who are wrong..

  • We emerge with our ego battered and the confidence knocked out of us. Our self belief is damaged
  • We are often told we are wrong/stupid/slow/unacademic/unintelligent/disordered.
  • We are often pushed into jobs that we are highly unsuited for because we are told “art isnt a real job. You will never get a job doing that. You can do art as a hobby”
  • Once trapped in these unsuitable jobs we can struggle mentally to stay afloat.
  • Our creativity becomes subsumed under the weight of everyday life and our creative light dims and flickers weakly.

A hunter in a farmers world

If, like me, you have always felt that your thought processes worked differently from the norm, especially when at school, I have found some interesting research recently.

Creativity may have a genetic component which has helped man evolve through creativity and language development. Research by Richard Klein, professor of anthropological sciences at Stanford University in California has pointed to the fact that…

A single mutation in a “creativity” gene less than 100,000 years ago led to the rapid development of art and culture and the ascent of Man, according to a controversial view of our early evolutionary history.

The mutation in a gene called “foxp2” – identified by British scientists in 2001 – caused an explosion in the complexity of language which underpinned the social and cultural revolution leading to the spread of Homo sapiens.

A fascinating book I am reading at the moment The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thom Hartmann, posits that creativity is a component of a highly adaptive skill set traceable to our hunter gatherer ancestors. When our creative life force becomes too big for society, a creative mind can be mislabelled “disordered” or “disfunctional”, symptomatic of ADHD and drugged into compliance, but Hartmann’s book argues that these skills are in fact a positive which result in innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs…

IF we can just survive the school system and society in one piece…

Thomas Edison, the great inventor and creative mind, was expelled from school for behaviour which would probably have him labelled as having Attention Deficit Disorder. He went on to become probably the worlds greatest inventor, creating the electric light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera amongst a plethora of innovations.

Leonardo Da Vinci was described as eccentric and impulsive and easily distracted, rarely finishing any of the paintings he started. Today he would very probably be labelled disordered and have a hard time at school… Back then he was recognised as a genius…

Hartmann describes having this creative skillset as being like “A hunter in a farmers world”, a very apt description of being an artist in society today.

Don’t be afraid to think differently…

Skills which aided our hunter gatherer ancestors, such as the ability to constantly scan the environment for danger, allow us to assimilate large amounts of information quickly and visually. We notice the details in life and can then combine them in non linear ways to make new and creative thoughts.

Our ancestors would have needed the ability to concentrate long and hard on finding food and hunting. We can discover this ability for extreme focus ourselves when we find something that truly engages us. Have you ever lost yourself for hours or even days in a painting and lost track of the passage of time, forgetting even to eat?

Conversely, the things that dont click with us are extremely hard to engage with {see my comment on maths lessons at the beginning of this post ;-)] and our creative visual mind will begin looking for other opportunities and brainstorming. {Cue getting shouted at by the teacher for daydreaming}

So why am I telling you this.

There are several heartfelt reasons for writing this post…

  • Because I have found it extremely interesting {and reassuring} to find research which describes in detail the way my mind works and explains a little of the possible historic background to creative thought and why we may be wired as we are. We are not the “weird arty kids”. We are the hunters who think differently. This is a GOOD THING.
  • Because it is an explanation as to why school may be tricky for those with creative brains.
  • Because too many creative people are told that their thinking is faulty when in fact it is society that is messed up…
  • Because too many artists are the square peg battered into the round hole in the education system and never manage to recover the initial joy they found in creativity as a child.
  • Because too many artists are forced into “proper jobs” which destroy their souls and make them ill, day after day, year after year…
  • Because it is never too late to nurture that creative flame and get it flickering brightly again, whatever your age.
  • And especially because we need to nurture the creativity of our children and help them find better opportunities and understanding than we were given when we were at school…

It’s not you… It’s the system…

The things that you have consistently been told are wrong with you, are actually YOUR GREATEST SKILLS.

The system is frightened of the kind of skills you possess and will try to supress them but you need to keep strong. They are the creative skills that are of VITAL IMPORTANCE in the emerging economy of the world. The education system hasn’t caught up with this yet.

Because the world desperately needs hunters, outsiders, and visionaries right now.

The people who have an unquenshable creative life force.The people who think differently. The people who have the vision of the way things could be. The people who don’t just toe the line and follow the status quo but who innovate and find a new and better way…

The creators. The thought leaders. The inventors, The entrepreneurs. The misfits. The shamens…

We have enough sheep. Lets go out and hunt…

Please share your thoughts and how you fared at school in the comments below…

NOW. PLEASE watch this wonderful, funny,  profound talk about creativity in the education system by the wonderful Sir Ken Robinson.


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8 replies
  1. Liz Gregory
    Liz Gregory says:

    Wonderful article. I am doing a book of exercises you may want to look at… The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. My current job is smothering me. I needed to read your article. Thanks for sharing.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Glad you found it helpful Liz. Julian Camerons book is wonderful. Hope you manage to find away to sort out your job and be more fulfilled.

  2. Linda Jones
    Linda Jones says:

    I am currently off work with a viral infection, it’s a recurring viral infection that I get every few months. I think it has everything to do with feeling like I should fit into a square hole when I am a round peg. It’s so hard to break out of the cycle. I have worked in jobs I despise for years and now that that’s where my experience is, it’s hard to get a job doing anything else. I know how to be creative, I just don’t know how to be paid to be creative.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Linda. I truly believe that if we are unhappy or stressed in our work it drains our energy and lays us open to illness like you describe. It’s hard when you are caught in this kind of cycle. I hope you manage to find a way to get more creativity into your life. Take care of yourself and get well soon.

  3. Helen Aldous
    Helen Aldous says:

    Thanks so much for your comments. Im glad the post rang a bell in people. I think many of us suffered like this in school and now I see my two school age kids progressing through the education system it becomes even more important to me.

    Dustin. I agree. One of my favourite books ever. It kind of made a lightbulb go on in my head. I recommend it to everyone. Fab book.

  4. Delisa
    Delisa says:

    This post really hits home for me. I did ok at school until I quit, but I have always had that outsider feeling. I don’t always think of things or see things in the same way as others. Because of that I sometimes have a hard time communicating with others.

    This whole idea that society is wrong about artist/creativity is a huge part of what made me want to become a creativity coach. I love helping people stop being sheep or zombee drones.

  5. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    Thanks so much for writing this post! I really can relate to the concept of being a “hunter in a farmer’s world.” I am one of the only artists in my family. Everyone is always trying to tell me that I am “too smart” to be an artist and should have become a lawyer or a doctor instead, not understanding the fact that artists are intelligent, too, or that when I took classes that were not creative in high school and college (e.g., science, math) I was so bored that I couldn’t stop drawing when I was supposed to be taking notes. We really do have a lot to offer, and I think we should value what we can contribute to the world, even if no one else does.


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