“Take Out a Box of Crayons and Keep an Open Mind”








I was having dinner with a friend in San Francisco on our return from New Zealand, and she told me a wonderful story. Her son teaches kindergarten, and on Martin Luther King day he held a class discussion about the meaning and importance of Dr King’s life. He asked them to draw a picture of what Dr. King meant to them. The room filled with the sound of pencils and crayons scratching paper. One child, with a worried look upon his face, raised his hand. “I don’t know what to draw,” he told the teacher. Another student overheard him, and said, “just take out a box of crayons and keep an open mind.” We laughed at the simple wisdom of this statement. Perhaps we should give this advice to the members of Congress.

So often we think ourselves into a paper bag, worrying about something or other. We go round and round trying to find a solution. The expression of art, in any form, can free our looping mind.

Look at the picture below, for example. I took this on a beach in New Zealand last week. Nature didn’t have anything in mind when she poured hot lava down the slopes and left it to harden many millennia ago. There was no mind, as we know it, just the pouring of energy. Yet look what was left, in negative space, as I peered through.







We have a choice about how we use our energy. Sometimes we let it turn us into a tailspin of worry, other times we free ourselves into open mind.

Imagine what our lives could be like if we poured our energy into creativity? What if we let our bodies do the thinking instead of our minds?

Next time you are anxious about something, take out a box of crayons, unwind a ball of yarn or press some clay between your hands. Add some music if you like, and see what happens.

I usually take photographs and write poetry to stay more present. One of these days I’ll open a box of crayons too.

How does art impact your creative problem solving?
What kinds of art help you best?

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12 Responses to “Take Out a Box of Crayons and Keep an Open Mind”

  1. joaneee says:

    Hi Eileen — whose journey far south is one I will too forever keep in my heart,

    Our talents are individual — but should never be left to lie dormant. We are individually blessed, as you are with your beautiful ability with photography and poetry that is deep, meaningful to the rest of us, and lovely. To share this gift is giving to others more than you might believe.

    I have always had a natural curiosity and a love for others, making me not want to speak as much as to listen carefully to words – words said and yes, unsaid. Each day I find stories from the small things I do – or the travelling that stirs my mind as well. To write it out — even if it is in journal form — is “spilling” – getting the thoughts out of your system, seeing them on paper — and often, seeing them in black-and-white, it allows me to consolidate my thinking or beliefs. But not always: sometimes, in reading back, I question my original thinking and change or refine it.

    No matter. It is a far better use of time than to be staring at the TV almost mindlessly. It often “nails” down your thoughts, not allowing them to continually be stirring you up. The point is is that you can move forward — and we must never be bogged down (as I consider that a total waste of life) — and usually find that there are more pleasant surprises if you go over your next hill in life with high expectations, dropping the black clouds of worry over things past, and looking for the sun to peek once again from beneath the clouds.

    Talents are inborn and totally yours. . so then it becomes up to you to delight yourself – and in your case, Eileen – delight all that come into your rays of light with your gift.

    And this is said with great admiration. Joan

  2. eileenrockefeller says:

    Thank you so much Joan. Your encouraging comments come on a day when I need a lift. And you are so right that we much never be “bogged down”, though sometimes it takes a while to pull ourselves out of the quagmire of quick sand. So thank you again, for your words. They have made a big difference to me today. Love, Eileen

  3. The blank paper… or screen… can be so intimidating for all of us. Often when I’m not sure what to write, I just start typing, and the words almost invariably flow out of me. But it’s that childlike trust that can be difficult to remember… to simply open your mind and draw.

    Great advice. Thank you, Sally

  4. eileenrockefeller says:

    I think we share the love affair with words. congratulations on your latest book, The Winter Boy and the potential Locus Award!

  5. Sue Dixon says:

    My sister Mary in the Wasach Mountains of Utah has been divesting of worldly possessions since being diagnosed with stage IV melanoma last January (Doctors gave her one year, thankfully she has surpassed it!) During one of my many visits last year Mary gave me a box of watercolor pencils, saying “You are an artist, you should have these.” She was remembering things I’d forgotten about our shared time growing up when I would paint, draw, color and create. Paint and pencil and clay had been in multiple decades of hibernation, so long I’d nearly forgotten the joy they provide. My sister’s gift, and your post, reminder us to foster the creative without fear or judgement. I how keep a sketch pad next to those pencils in my living room for near daily action! Thanks for the reminder, Eileen. Welcome Home!

    • What a lovely gift from your sister! And thanks for the idea of keeping the colored pencilsby your bedside. They must be a daily reminder, both of Mary and of the invitation to keep your mind open! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Hi Eileen, I liked the story about the kindergarten kids and their Martin Luther King assignment. And, I, equally, like the comment you tossed out about members of Congress wising up their thoughts by taking out a box of crayons. Yesterday, was a rough day for Congress in my opinion. Everyone calls Benjamin Netanyahoo, Bibi and so will I. Bibi took center stage and surprised so many by insulting his friend President Obama the week before. I like both leaders. Do you really think a box of crayons would have created an open mind? maybe…
    Art, for me, is an exercise in appreciation. I live near enough to great museums and I go to major exhibits. Also, I have beautiful crayons and colored pencils which have been gifts. Art is a “must”. One of the great great, if not the greatest stories in the Philadelphia art world is the story behind The Barnes Foundation, a truly beautiful art collection. Like I said at my champagne tea, given to me at The New York Times so many years ago, when I left because of sickness, “May you enjoy color in the near future!” Color turned the black and white pages soon after my comment…

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Elaine, I’m behind on my responses as I’ve had 3 talks in the last week and lots to catch up on upon arriving home. In terms of Bibi and Congress, no, I don’t think a box of crayons would have worked. I’m not sure what would work in Congress. But they act the age of children who might benefit from the diversion of crayons to find an open mind.
      What a lovely sharing about you and the NYT’s goodbye party – how you said “May you enjoy color in the near future!” and they DID!

  7. Phyll says:

    Art and animals—this is my canvas of pure joy. Whenever I feel at loose ends or in need of an “artist’s date” with myself, I grab my cameras and head for pretty places. Here in Ann Arbor, there are many: from the botanical gardens, lush with orchids and bright blooms all year ’round, to our historical peony gardens (oldest in N. America) to the panoramic and wide, open spaces of our surrounding countryside and my beloved Dancer.

    Art means tapping into my h’art and discovering true joy within. Using glitter stickers on notes and correspondence, choosing bright Crayola Crayons (love turquoise and magenta especially) and coloring for a while, playing with watercolors and sponges to create an abstract painting, kneading Play-Doh and using cookie cutters to make fun shapes, and practicing Calligraphy are additional channels of artful expressions, as well. Clears the cob-webs from my mind, refreshes my soul and restores my energy for having fun and creating more art!

    Thanks for your beautiful blogs, thoughtful (and thought-provoking) questions, Eileen!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Have you ever taught art as therapy Phyll? It seems you have so many ideas and outlets, not to mention skills. I imagine you could be very effective.

  8. The Cake
    Hurray for the celebrations,
    Causing the colors of cake and
    ice cream
    Served on a pretty plate
    to be my muse.
    Hurrah for the sum of the parts
    called ingredients.
    A cake, surprise, delight.
    Another piece of cake, please ! by Elaine Marie Nora Katherine Naddaff Hughes

  9. eileenrockefeller says:

    I like this! Just saw it now Elaine. Thanks for sharing your muse!

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