Illustration:©The Magazine of Yoga
Mo’ Better Blues
Almost, but not quite, and other crumpled paper trails
BY MAGAZINE ART EDITOR AJA BLANC
Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.
In my work as an artist-educator I often work with young children and their parents. Recently during a studio session with a group of 6, 7, and 8 year-olds, a parent asked me what she could do to help when her daughter got extremely upset at her perceived mistakes during art making.
Just one misplaced line or unwanted mark and her daughter’s frustration would mount until she was near tears or in a fit of frustration and abandoning what she was working on all together.
I paused before answering, thinking of how angry and frustrated I would get as I drew pictures of princess dresses over and over again at the dining room table when I was a little girl.
A storm of perfect
Each dress had a heart shaped bodice with a tiny waist that billowed out into an enormous gown, like an upside tea cup – a gown fit for a Disney princess.
Over and over again, I would draw the same princess dress and almost every time I would crumple up the drawing and start over. Each crumpled drawing contained a mistake that only I could see. I refused to use an eraser, because somehow that made it even worse, the faded erased line only served to magnify the mistake further.
When I was questioned as to why I crumpled up all my drawings (and wasted so much paper) I said it was because they were all messed up. My family shrugged their shoulders because they couldn’t see all the glaring mistakes that were so obvious to me.
Looking back, I think the biggest mistake I felt in each drawing was that they weren’t perfect. Perfect meant not making any mistakes and anything less than perfection was hard to live with.
Cosmic forces and knitting yogis
To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.
When we make mistakes in life, people tell us to learn from them. Or they say that making mistakes is better than not trying in the first place.
I wonder if those same people have ever tried knitting.
Knitting is really just some yarn, two needles and endless cycle of making mistakes and fixing them, punctuated by brief moments weaving together the yarn into something cohesive. Despite a love of wool garments and a real enthusiasm for learning how to knit, I gave it up because it was just too hard to make those inevitable mistakes. I literally couldn’t bear it.
When the kind ladies at my local knit shop suggested that knitting is all about learning to fix mistakes and offered to teach me how to fix them, I countered that it would be more helpful if they could teach me how to not make any in the first place.
After they finished laughing at me, someone said something along the lines of “Honey, that’s just not possible.”
The most perfect part of imperfection
I am still a little wary of the knitting needle, but in time I have learned the importance of allowing for mistakes and not just in knitting. Cultivating more self-acceptance and compassion has helped make room for mistakes to be made and feel the reassurance that I will survive in the end.
Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.
-Vincent Van Gogh
My biggest challenge with making mistakes has come through in my art practice. It took me a long time to understand how to put my perfectionist tendencies to good use in working through mistakes towards my desired goal. Rather than crumpling up the page and tossing it away, I now look at the misdirected mark, line or bit of paint and ask myself “How can I turn this into something that works?”
We love it when we make mistakes that are better than something you could think up.
Learning to work through my mistakes in art has helped me not only adjust unrealistic standards; it has led to a more productive artistic process. This means the work I create is better for having worked through the mistakes than if I hadn’t made any at all.
Sthira, sukha, making art
I thought of all this when I sat next to that young 7 year-old girl in my class, watching her gasp as her pencil veered off its course. She stared at the line for a moment and said, “I messed up”.
She seemed ready to tear the paper to shreds.
I shared with her the ways in which artists react to their mistakes and asked her if there was any way she could turn the line into something she liked. She began drawing into the line, layering and transforming it into something she was quite pleased with in the end.
When she finished, I asked her how she felt about working on the piece. “It was kind of easy and kind of hard. But there is a lot there for me to love.”
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.