Why do my crayons have to be in a box?

Without boxes life would be rather chaotic. My sock drawer would be a sea of cotton. Moving would be a nightmare. The shadow box display on my wall wouldn’t be very aesthetically pleasing.

Plus: learning tends to be easier when it’s organized. How can I box all of these items up so that they make sense? I’ll separate and re-categorize information until it is logically process-able and for that, I need mental “boxes.”  One perspective on a teacher’s role is that s/he should help draw those lines. “Keep this idea separate from the previous one so that you don’t get confused.” Integration and synthesis might be the ultimate goal of a course but only after a whole lot of parsing has already occurred.  (Clearly, I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m not studied up on how the brain stores information. BUT, this has been my personal experience of many student-teacher relationships. I could write 500 pages on why we should always be in student-student mode and how all knowledge is processed through integration but back to the point. )

What happens when I, as an artist, have drawn boxes around myself because of the way I learn?  Or just because I like things to be organized? There’s a box around the way I practice. There’s a box around how I form an [i] vowel. There’s a box around how to learn a Shakespeare monologue vs. how to learn a contemporary opera aria.

At what point do the boxes I have formed in order to process huge amounts of information become caps/limits/walls/barriers?

I have watched myself, and often my students, get stuck inside a box. We suddenly run out of room to grow and find ourselves frustrated.  I’m doing everything I’m supposed to! I’m doing all of the things that are in the box marked “techniques that work.”

Without knowing it, our need for freedom has increased and the only way to move forward is to take the box away. Leave the map behind and try something that has never worked before.

Then, of course, the inner monologue has to grapple with the intensity of our resistance to change. With a willing mind we might get curious and explore some uncharted territory but then…

Each time change threatens, something pushes the barriers back in place. –Eloise Ristad

This something is my current query. What is it?

-The inner critic

-The paradigms that are guiding our creative experience into what has always been done before

-A teacher from our past who has always served as our “authority”

-The overwhelming desire for the result to be right/good/predictable/safe

In my own creative time and space, I speak to all of these forces in my mind and then shout “let me take my crayons out of their box!” and practice by skipping around my studio and rolling on the floor and laughing or playing or doing the opposite of right/good/predictable/sage. And that always works.

My opening question, then, is for all the teachers and directors and coaches that encounter frustrated students and go to open their “toolbox.” What would the studio look like if, instead of seeing options in a box, there were different colored crayons constantly available and never stowed away, waiting to be picked up/played with/tried out until another color caught our attention and pulled us in a new direction?


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