LEGO creation by Ben English 
LEGO Santa by Ben English

LEGO Santa by Ben English

“The worst thing about LEGO is trying to think of what to make”, said my nine year old nephew Ben, as we talked about his love/hate relationship with LEGO. We had been looking at images on the Internet of all the coolest LEGO constructions and sculptures that we could find. Ben and I had been dreaming about the types of jobs he might get one day working for LEGO when I said that I thought maybe he could be a designer or a sculptor or something like that. Ben explained that he wasn’t so sure about that because whilst he loved LEGO it was no simple matter coming up with ideas – good ideas.

Ben’s problem with LEGO is a lovely example of that danger point between play and work, between art and agony, between flow and failure…thinking what to make. I’ve always experienced the problem of thinking about art work as the worst possible worry and a terrible place to get stuck in. Nothing is ever right or good enough when you are trying to answer the question “what are you making?”. The problem is that your description of what you plan to make will never match the product you actually do make, nor will it match the image the person you just told what you are making will have in their mind. The other problem is that often you’re not sure what you are making at all – you plan to find out when you’ve made it. Trying to think of what to make ensures that you cut off your imagination and creativity because all you will think of is all the reasons why you can’t make it, why it won’t be good enough or why you are mad to think you could make something like that, and so on. Ben reminded me of that danger zone, the tyranny of the proper zone when he told me about how it effects him with his LEGO, I was glad to be reminded. (Tyranny of the Proper see https://theburdenofwings.com/2013/07/15/the-tyranny-of-the-proper/)

About a half an hour later Ben and I were downstairs at the kitchen table. I was talking to his Mam and granny and he was busy playing with some wooden bricks, making various constructions. I looked over and asked him “What are you making?”, Ben answered “Don’t know” and continued building. I stayed talking with my Mam and sister. As we continued on in our separate activities it occurred to me that I had already forgotten the lesson he taught me with his LEGO story! I had just asked him “what are you making?”!!! I had invited him right into a tyranny of the proper conversation, asked him to explain his work, his vision, his idea, asked him to give me something proper. I was annoyed with myself for asking him such a stupid question and wondered what else I could have asked instead? Maybe I could have said instead, “What game are you playing?”, “are you enjoying creating with your bricks?”, or “do you need any other materials for your build?”. I’m not really sure but I’m fairly certain that “what are you making?” is an unhelpful question to ask anyone who is busy using their imagination.

Some of the LEGO we were looking at




2 thoughts on “Never ask an artist “What are you making?”

  1. That is so true. I used to ask the lads to ” tell me about your design” . I don’t know if it made any difference to their creative skills but it might a different way to enquire because I totally agree with what you are saying, ” what are you making” is like the most scariest thing you could be asked when you are trying to create something. Especially when you haven’t a clue what you are going to make.

    I really love Ben’s Santa and the picture above , they are full of life and brilliant. Keep on building Ben.

    • Thanks Clair will tell Ben 🙂 well your lads are brilliant creatively so I think you must have done a lot if things right to support them along the way. You were a huge support and inspiration to me growing up – probably never would have did any art if you weren’t my big sister 🙂

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