Self-expression takes on forms that can be observed in a multitude of ways. It can be applauded for its creative enterprises, or it can be avoided for its too outlandish expression. Artists, which include visual, literary, theatrical, and musical alike, are often revered for their self-expression, which can develop into an acceptable style either due to its conformity or it can put up a fight, demonstrating a more nonconformist approach regarding societies norms.
These latter examples are a quick look at adults who find themselves in the pursuit of self-expression. But if we were to observe the younger population, children, the degree of self-expression is curious. Its eloquence often mimics informal play, in comparison to that which is formal, regimented, and scheduled. Let us take the instance of receiving a gift. Perhaps the wee one, say at the age of four, is given a grand birthday present…does the child play with the tricycle or does he or she take this plain ordinary, rather large carton it was delivered in, and transform it into an imaginary rocket ship? But, if the child takes to the trike, perhaps their self-expression is reconstructing their persona into the form of an imaginary race car driver…although we can’t see it, the little mind is rushing about and the feet are peddling as quickly as they can.
Children’s freedom from inhibitions take flight at an early age; like a player on stage, they will light up a room with a fairy wand or capture the most notorious crook as a pretend policeman. They will sing the latest song, dance the latest dance, and demonstrate a magic act without any real props; happily emulating those who reign and command our many forms of entertainment… from video apps to the “silver screen”. Self-expression is the unique part of us all…it is the secret place that emerges like a rainbow behind a cloud…it can brighten the grey sky or distract another rain storm. For within our lifetime we take the role of presenter, sometimes the play is a success and other times it may be a flop…fortuitously, ones self-expression is malleable; like clay it has the ability to take a shape and then again be reshaped…and unless an artist is unyielding and allows it to harden without being true to the form, self-expression can be an asset, a performance that explores the self and for those who are lucky enough to be in the audience, it too can enrich the spectator.
Today’s blog returns and explores the words of our esteemed thinker: Jane Addams, a progressive and tireless worker who is recognized as the leader in the profession of social work in the United States. As the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, she championed progress for public health and reform, which included both world peace and the woman’s right to vote.
I invite you to take a few moments to reflect upon some of her thoughts from her book, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. I give you Ms. Addams…
“…To the preoccupied adult who is prone to use the city street as a mere passageway from one hurried duty to another, nothing is more touching than his encounter with a group of children and young people who are emerging from a theater with the magic of the play still thick upon them. They look up and down the familiar street scarcely recognizing it and quite unable to determine the direction of home. From a tangle of “make believe” they gravely scrutinize the real world which they are so reluctant to reënter, reminding one of the absorbed gaze of a child who is groping his way back from fairy-land whither the story has completely transported him.
“Going to the show” for thousands of young people in every industrial city is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance; the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them. In a very real sense the drama and the drama alone performs for them the office of art as is clearly revealed in their blundering demand stated in many forms for “a play unlike life.” The theater becomes to them a “veritable house of dreams” infinitely more real than the noisy streets and the crowded factories…
…The few attempts which have been made in this direction are astonishingly rewarding to those who regard the power of self-expression as one of the most precious boons of education… The Children’s Theater in New York is the most successful example, but every settlement in which dramatics have been systematically fostered can also testify to a surprisingly quick response to this form of art on the part of young people…It would also be easy to illustrate youth’s eagerness for artistic expression from the recitals given by the pupils of the New York Music School Settlement, or by those of the Hull-House Music School. These attempts also combine social life with the training of the artistic sense and in this approximate the fascinations of the five-cent theater…”
First image: Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948, Oil and enamel paint on canvas