Fueling the Creative Flame

Maira Kalman

The work of this award-winning artist, author, designer, and illustrator has appeared in The New Yorker and the book The Elements of Style. She is the mother of two children, ages 24 and 21.

What did your parents do to encourage creativity?

My parents, especially my mother, put no limits on my creativity. They never expected me to be pragmatic. Stories were encouraged. Irreverence was admired. We often went to museums. I had piano lessons, ballet lessons. The atmosphere was nonjudgmental. What I understood from her was "just be yourself."

Who were the adults in your life who most encouraged your creativity?

Again, my mother. She did not interfere in what I wanted to do. She had faith in me and believed I should make my own mistakes, which takes a tremendous amount of courage and patience on the parent's part.

Which books and other materials inspired you most as a child?

Pipi Longstocking was my hero. She was independent, spoke her mind, and was kind and funny. A very good imaginary role model. I probably had that tomboyish, spunky, strong attitude that a lot of girls have before they enter adolescence-that kind of fearlessness that you need in the world and hopefully find again when you've gone through some amount of growing up. She was an example of that. She didn't doubt herself; she was strong and funny. That to me seemed a good way to live.

If you could share one piece of advice with a child about being creative, what would that be?

Follow your natural instincts and don't try to do something "right." Just do what you feel.

What do you see as your most creative accomplishment?

Making my life and art a seamless event (for the most part). I don't have to be different in my work than I am in my life. On the contrary, the confusion, sadness, happiness, curiosity that is in my personality is in my work.

Why do you think encouraging creativity is important?

Einstein's famous quote "Imagination is more important than knowledge" resonates for every person on earth. If you cannot imagine a new way-your way-to do something, it seems that life would be quite boring. And creativity brings change and optimism.

How do you keep yourself creative?

I am curious about things. I like to laugh and I don't like to be bored. So when I get bored, I do something that I think would be interesting and fun. I like to travel and that gives me great energy. But just taking a walk around the block is incredibly inspiring-seeing the people around us trying to do the best they can.

What have you done to encourage your kids' creativity?

My children are now 24 and 21. We always had fun and made things together: costumes, masks, forts, cities with all the furniture in the living room. We used to take string and make spiderwebs across the whole place. And take chairs and build houses. Everything was movable and nothing so precious that we could not turn the room upside down. We listened to music. We looked at architecture. We went to the beach. We read all the time. We sang and danced and loved.

What do you think are the ideal toys, games, books, activities, and art supplies for promoting creativity?

All and any books of course. Then paper and pencil. We didn't have computer toys when we were growing up. We used to draw each other with our eyes closed. We would draw our dreams. You don't need anything more than that. There are enough things around the house that are fun to work with. The best thing is to not have too much. Then you find magic in what is around you.

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