In 1886, Henri Rousseau lived with his family in the small French town of Angers, where he worked as a toll and tax collector. In his early forties and with no formal training, he began to exhibit his paintings in the prestigious art galleries of Paris. Almost immediately he attracted the ire of critics, with one remarking, “Monsieur Rousseau paints with his feet, with a blindfold over his eyes!”
Unperturbed, Rousseau continued to pursue his passion, and did so for the rest of his life. Although he never travelled further in his lifetime than the botanical gardens of Paris, he loved to paint lush jungle scenes, and he filled canvas after canvas with bold colours, light and imagination.
Through his childlike enthusiasm and dedication to seeing his inspirations become a reality, Rousseau inspired generations of artists in a wide range of creative pursuits, from Pablo Picasso to Joni Mitchell. “Le Douanier” (the customs officer), as he was affectionately known by his peers, helped pioneer an appreciation of imagination and self-expression in an artistic movement that came to be known as “Naïve art”.
None of this was ever part of a grandiose plan. Henri Rousseau just wanted to paint his pictures.
In a world of increasing complexity, it can be all too easy to lose that spark of innocence and imagination we are all born with amidst the noise of cynicism that seems, at times, to surround us. People are constantly searching for ways to leave behind the pressures of “reality” and experience something of the spontaneity and joy of childhood. This can sometimes lead to a desire to escape rather than to embrace life. How often do we hurry past the simple, beautiful opportunities that surround us in daily life in a hurry to get somewhere fast for something “important”?
Rather than just the pressures of the outside world, we are the ones denying ourselves when we take our own ideas and criticize them before even giving ourselves a chance to experience them. How often have you told yourself that you don’t have the time, training or experience to do what you really want to do? Or you have waited in vain for someone else either to tell you what you need to do, or to come along and present you with the “big opportunity”?
Take a moment and cast your mind back to the times in your life when you have felt truly happy. In most cases, these experiences will have come about because you dared to follow through on a simple idea and made something happen for yourself. It may not have turned out exactly as you expected; it may even have seemed like a complete disaster at some point! But, because you took an idea and ran with it, you allowed yourself to experience life and to grow.
Life is a creative adventure when we become the encouraging caregiver to our own inner childlike nature. Giving ourselves the freedom to start taking our first steps towards realizing our dreams is all the encouragement we really need. Nobody else can live our life for us. It’s something only we can do for ourselves.