The decline of 'flow'


Robert Genn


April 16, 2013



Yesterday, Katarina Vlasic dropped by to show me a carload of 12" x 24" paintings by her 7- and 8-year-old second grade students. Katarina is a popular art teacher who divides her time between two schools. "In this series we studied Marc Chagall," she said. "The kids loved the strangeness and weirdness. Chagall stimulated their imagination--gave them permission to play.


The paintings were on their way to an exhibition in a public gallery. FYI, we've illustrated some of them at the top of the current clickback.


"At this age, kids have few inhibitions and they're not so critical," she said. "With their strong personalities, mistakes become a positive part of the process. Even autistic kids settle right in and concentrate. And shy kids love it because they get a few moments to shine."


I made my standard remarks that the great teachers ought to be knighted. We talked of our mutual interest in the creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who pioneered the concept of "flow." He defined flow as the ability of some people to get into the groove and be one with their art. 


Katarina and I compared notes--what I'd observed in adults, and what she knew first hand by working with children. We agreed that creative people may sometimes be hyperactive and that they're not always turned on. In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot to recharge their batteries. I had visions of art rooms of yore where the only sound was the quiet burble of flow.


Recent research has found many creative people to be simultaneously extroverted and introverted, while most humans, according to studies, tend to be one or the other. Both Katarina and I had also noticed that many creative individuals show evidence of both.


As the children's paintings at the top of the current clickback show, pretty well all are what you could call "creative." It's my theory that we're all born creative, but we just have it somehow knocked out of us. The questions are, how do young children so easily fall into "flow," and why do adults so easily fall out of it?


Best regards,




PS: "At that age we kind of catch them in a golden period before they lose it." (Katarina Vlasic) 


Esoterica: I was once invited to talk and demo before a mixed group of students, some in grade 3 and others in grade 11. After my presentation, the kids went to their own classrooms, where they were asked to bash out a painting in one sitting. Needless to say, the younger kids filled their canvases, used bright colours and pretty well completed their work. The older ones, for the most part, did something or other in the middle of the canvas, were not particularly daring with their colours or compositions, and didn't finish. After lunch, when it was my turn to diplomatically crit all the work, the older ones were sullen with folded arms while the younger ones were whooping it up. I stand by my position on knighthood.