Do Zebras Have Purple Stripes?

My third grade teacher was perfectly clear that it was impossible as she held up my composition book with the picture of a zebra. On it I had colored in the zebra’s stripes with a vibrant purple marker. Instead of being praised for the whimsy and creativity, I was humiliated in front of a class of 9 year olds who were not apt to forget the girl with the purple zebra for the remainder of the school year. I didn’t draw or paint for another 30 years.

Flash forward. Graduate school. I’m studying to become a therapist and randomly choose an elective in Art Therapy. But art therapy didn’t pique my interest—at least not the therapy aspect. What I did discover or re-discover was the essence of playing and what one could do when censors were released. I could dig my fingers into a lump of mushy clay. I could throw watery paint onto paper or even a wall. I could make random marks and give little thought to what unfolded. It was magical and empowering. It was walking into what had always been forbidden—doing things wrong like drawing purple striped zebras.

From the first day of that class I was flooded with the impulse to make Art—and to make art without trying to know what this or that would become. While I have since honed my skills and to some degree my process, I still paint with a wild abandon, throwing caution to the wind, using materials in quirky and unusual ways. I mix mediums and materials and experiment like a chemist might. On occasion, things don’t work but each experiment is an adventure and learning something new is a given. This keeps my art fresh, lively and new.

If only my teacher had known what children know instinctively and had harnessed the creativity rather than stomping on it so early in my life. I might have been painting for decades longer. But I am also able to take what I learned from that and use it in my own process and bring that process to others and not only to make beautiful art. Being creative is our soulful right and it can contribute to more out of the box thinking and unimpeded exploration. It’s magical and I believe it is essential to our growth and well being.







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