During the last few weeks of my thirty year elementary art teaching career, I decided to take an impromptu survey of some of my classes. While students were deeply engaged in their projects, I quietly approached each one individually to ask a question. It was, “If you named the most important thing I’ve ever taught you, what would it be?” It amazed me that even though no other students were privy to the answers others gave, that nearly all responses fell into one of three areas.
The first was “I am creative”. “There is no such thing as a mistake” was the second. “Famous artists” were mentioned as the third. Upon further inquiry regarding famous artists, it seemed that many of the artists of renown experienced difficulty in their lives, and yet they made something of themselves. The assumption, of course, was that my students felt they could overcome adversity as well.
What if we adapted these attitudes for our lives?
Let’s begin with the first one. I am creative. You may exclaim, “Oh, but I’m not an artist,” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Instead, think of your life as a work of art. If that is too much of a stretch, you could start smaller, maybe a week, a day or even just a moment of your life. You get to fill that time with whatever you desire to create. It could be as simple as making a connection with another person, or planting a tree, cooking a meal or cleaning and waxing your car. A painting is made with one brushstroke at a time, eventually filling an entire canvas. What are you creating with your life from one moment to another?
The second one is, there is no such thing as a mistake. It was always concerning to me when a student would constantly erase their efforts. I had a drawing I made with some chickens in which I included a wire cage. Chicken wire, as you may know, is made with a hexagonal pattern. I truly had made an unintentional “mistake”. I inadvertently drew a line straight through the middle of a hexagon. I was too far into the project to start over and I happened to be drawing in ink! With some thought, I turned the center of that hexagon into a cobweb. Then, I would show this to my students and ask where my disguised error was. Some classes would guess correctly, but to others it was invisible. There is freedom in using critical thinking skills to transform so called mistakes to our advantage. How could you apply this to your life?
Well, as to the famous artists, I was pleasantly surprised on that one. But, upon thinking through the years, the troubles of various artists had tumbled from my tongue. There was Van Gogh who had a difficult time settling on an occupation. Michelangelo’s mother died when he was a baby. Later, as an artist, he was forced by the Pope to pause his passion of sculpting to do a monumental four year painting. At the end of Matisse’s life, he made accommodations to being wheelchair bound. He switched from painting to large scale collages, and had an assistant attach each piece. Renoir was able to continue painting by tying his paint brush to his arthritic hand. There were artists whose work was judged as unacceptable by an art critic who called them fauves or wild beasts. This inspired an entire art movement. Additionally, quite a number of artists’ parents frowned upon the arts as a livelihood as it wasn’t perceived as a lucrative option. Yet, though all these difficulties, they persevered. These artists survived and even thrived by becoming their true selves. How could you rise above challenging issues in your life?
No one has a perfect life with no difficulties. From the outside looking in, I suppose some lives may appear ideal, like Barbie and Ken dolls. But when you truly know life, one may realize that perhaps challenges exist for a reason. If you ponder on your troubles of the past, what did you learn? How did you overcome? Was there a bigger, hidden message to you regarding what transpired and how you progressed through this time?
Perhaps you could live with the mindset of an artist! Create each moment. Work with any “mistakes”, turning them into opportunities. By striving through difficulties, learn the lessons of your life. Art is much more than creating a pretty picture. It is about living a beautiful life!