I’ve recently started a new adventure in mosaic art. To say this was an unexpected turn would be a significant understatement. Through the grace and gifts of a talented community education teacher, I’ve been reversing 50+ years of believing I could not possibly do anything worthwhile in the visual arts. It has been more than a little frightening. In fact, let me quote just a bit from my original account (from the Spring 2011 LEARNing Landscapes).
The first day of the class I was nervous but found my way to the studio, built in a detached garage behind the instructor’s home. Opening the door felt a bit like walking into an art supply store that had exploded. There were mobiles hanging from the ceiling–some of beads, some of toys—and a skein of plastic flamingos dangling in one corner. There were boxes of beads, crates of glass, broken dishes and bins of unidentifiable objects covering three walls. In the middle of the room was a tall wooden worktable at which about half the students were busily working, and the other half were sitting, looking about as dazed as I felt. I sat on a tall stool with the other obvious newcomers. . . The teacher looked at us and said, “Do you know what you want to make?” My first thought was, “Uhhhh, a mosaic??” but I couldn’t quite bring myself to say it.
That was about a year and a half ago. I took the plunge with significant anxiety, but though there have been lots of chances to revise and redo, I’ve been generally happy with the results.
But creative efforts don’t come without risk. “Risk taking” is always included in lists of characteristics associated with creativity. Going beyond what is known is, by definition, uncertain. And sometimes when we take risks, we fail. Recently I made the first mosaic that I really didn’t like. It was a switch plate cover for my living room, made, in part, from the shards of a vase that fell (literally) victim to the mantle-that-fell-off-the-fireplace. I worked on it for several weeks, looked at it and didn’t like what I saw. Since it was near the end of class, I put it away and went home, thinking the piece was soon to be relegated to the basement.
During the following week, two interesting things happened. First, my teacher e-mailed with some suggestions I might try to revise the switch plate. But perhaps more importantly, I realized it didn’t matter if the suggestions worked or not. Since that first day, when an early failure might have sent me out the door, I had come to a place where I believed that even if one project turned out to be a dud, it didn’t mean everything I did was going to be bad. That sounds simple, but you’ll have to trust me that in this context, it was a big deal. In this new adventure, I could fail one day and do well the next. Amazing.
It has made me think more about how we help students prepare for, and weather, the days when the creative risks they take don’t work out. I’m going to think more about risk and failure in coming posts, but for now I’d be interested to hear what you do. How do you help students gain the experiences and confidence necessary for the days their creative efforts are less successful?