AiWeiWei being oppressed and silenced — illustration by Ronald Paredes

“How long would it take for my son to be creative?”

As the slow season of the year for design work starts, as usual, extending for as long as five or six months I committed to not to let the situation catch me off guard. I thought I could use all the information that I have to create workshops and courses to help create an extra income with the added value of the enriching experience of teaching.

Portion of the Ad to promote art and creativity workshops & lessons

I created an ad where I promote several courses, ranging from drawing basics to creative thinking and generating ideas. What I had in mind was a series of lessons for adults wanting to develop or explore their creative and artistic side while learning some art techniques; however, as soon as the ad was made public without my knowledge by a dear friend I started to receive messages, most of them by parents and/or teachers asking me if those courses were available for children and if I would teach kids.

I have to admit that although I love kids, for reason I can’t explain until now I always felt awkward working directly with them; I’m perfectly fine designing for children brands and products, but there is something that makes me very uncomfortable about wearing a red ball nose, making the silly dances and faking the overexcited, happy voice (sorry about the stereotyping), is just not my thing. Then I remember one of the things that I teach in my creativity class in high school, where I talk about the importance of disruption and challenge to spark creativity, so I decided to challenge myself and give it a try.

Of the several messages I got, two of them caught my attention particularly. The first one from a lady who runs an English training center for kids, she was interested not only in having lessons for her 8 years old son but also in implementing some of this creativity courses in her English classes for little children.

At this point I should mention that in China there are several companies opening large art training centers, I’m talking about places filled with teachers who would train your kids in everything from music, dance to drawing and painting.

When I suggested to this lady one of these centers, her answer with a dismissive face was… “Those places are extremely expensive and they have nothing to do with creativity, is all about the money”. I want to say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t at all.

The second message that caught my attention was from another lady who wanted to meet me in person to discuss the possibility of having lessons for her 13 years old son, “my son has been studying drawing since he was very little and he is very good at it, but I would love if he could be creative, he can reproduce a picture but he can not produce something of his own imagination”. She wasn’t looking for drawing or illustration lessons, those you can find in every corner, but creativity? that seems to be something scarce.

During our conversation she mentioned that she works as a Chinese language teacher at a very prestigious and important art university (which name I will reserve to myself for obvious reasons), when I suggested if there were probably more suitable and more experienced teachers in that university she said to me with an air of disappointment, “many art teachers in China don’t cultivate creativity, instead they encourage their students to learn by copying better and more experienced artists”. Surprised? Once again no, not at all.

Almost at the end of our meeting, this sweet woman asked me a question that at first, it might sound silly but from her own perspective, it makes total sense. She asked me “how long time would it take to my son to be creative”

While I was trying to gather and organize all the information available in my brain to come up with a satisfactory and yet honest answer to that insurmountable question I couldn’t help myself to feel pain for an immense population who is desperately asking for a change in their culture, their mentality, but most importantly a change in their education system. A country with an immense potential which population has been kept on a leash for decades, only because “critical thinking can be dangerous to the establishment”.

Every parent wants the very best for their kids, especially when it comes to education and Chinese parents are not the exception. They would give even what they don’t have in order to provide what they consider is the best in education to them. This also makes them an easy target for unscrupulous individuals and companies who would create fake, high-end, overpriced education centers and take advantage of these parents who, coming from a restrictive and insufficient education system are not capable of distinguishing the glass from the diamond.

Ronald Paredes (mundosanto)

is a Venezuelan visual artist, graphic designer, author and creativity geek, based in Nanjing, China.