Sunday was a slow and rainy day, very much welcome as we have not had rain here since 1996. It’s true, ask my lawn.
Rain brushed against the windows and falling acorns made the sound of popcorn popping as the wind shook them from the trees onto the roof. Football noise filled the house and AD dozed on the couch in front of the TV. Which left Sean and me with a wonderful afternoon of nothingness to fill. It was a perfect day for artsy people like us, so we called up our inner-Picassos and sought out something creative to do.
I recently found a box that had been stashed away for years, and inside was a bunch of artsy crafty things like markers, craft wire, beads, fancy papers and four small blank puzzles among other things. I handed the bag to Sean to dig through to see what elements would inspire him. He chose the blank puzzles. He wanted to make a puzzle to give to his dad to solve at such time as he awoke from watching the game. . .
Before I even handed Sean the puzzle, I knew exactly how it would play out. He would make three or four marks on the puzzle and then heave a big sigh of regret and slump his shoulders and hang his head – the posture of tragedy and lamentation. He had messed up, nothing could be done to salvage the project. It was not perfectly executed. There was no hope, none. It was hideous and must be destroyed and hidden from view of the world.
I remember doing the very same thing when I was about his age. I would sit down with much creative energy and an artistic vision in my head, one about seven clicks beyond my skill level. I would make a few marks on the paper and then feel disgust at what I saw. It was not perfect. Not even close. Then I would wad up the paper and throw it in the trash, wanting no one to see.
I would wad up paper after paper as I sought artistic perfection which never came. And my mother let me. Maybe she didn’t care about the wasting of paper or the environment, not very many people did in the 60s. Or maybe the wadding and tossing of paper kept me busy which meant she could keep reading her book. Nonetheless, I remember the frustration of not being able to perfectly transmit my idea to the paper and the dissatisfaction of never completing a project, never having anything to show for my time and effort.
Unfortunately for Sean, I am not as easy going as my mother. I don’t allow wadding and tossing. I make him finish what he started. He doesn’t like that I make him do that, but he lives under a momocracy and Queen AM decides the fate of all paper and art supplies around here.
So I knew before I even handed Sean the puzzle that this is how it would go. That he would make a few marks and then heave breath and hang head and beg for a do-over.
Therefore, I preemptively gave my little speech on how he needed to think through and consider what he was going to do before he made one single mark. Oh yes! He knew exactly what he was going to do! He didn’t need a sketch or a thumbnail! That is for amateurs! He had an artistic vision! I said that was awesome that he was so far advanced, that even DaVinci made thumbnails. I reminded him that this was a one shot deal, no do-overs, that he was required to complete the project no matter what.
He decided that he would make a tropical scene, a palm tree with coconuts. Unfortunately, about 63 seconds into the project, he decided that the coconuts didn’t turn out as he had hoped, which set off the heaving, hanging, slumping and lamenting.
He looked up at me with the practiced expression of hopeful, yet sad watery eyes. Might he please, possibly, please have another blank puzzle?
And do you know what I said? I said No.
I said you figure out some way to make the composition work – that is the creative process – figuring out how to make your mistakes work. No one makes perfect art. But those who make good art, have learned how to do so by working through the failures. Those who keep wadding up paper and throwing it in the trash hoping the next effort will be better, never get better. Art is about making something good out of your mistakes.
Or maybe I was talking about life. I don’t know.
He didn’t like that I made him finish his coconut tree puzzle. He said it was a terrible coconut tree and he frowned a sad frown.
I don’t really enjoy making my child frown sad frowns (although it is kind of cute) but I know that some day, because I insisted, he will grow up to make good coconut trees, and you can’t really overestimate the value of that.