Monday, February 2, 2015

Making Mistakes Beautiful- RES

"Can I have a new piece of paper?" "I need to start over." "Oh, no! I just ruined it."

These are things I hear every day in the art room, and if you are an art teacher, or likely any type of teacher at all, you hear these things all of the time from your students too. What is a teacher to do?

Kids know I have more paper.  
That's not why I refuse to give them more. 

I hold out because I know they can fix it. Because I am their cheerleader, and their classmates are too. 

And because, if a child is going to take away anything at all from my art classes, I hope it will be the ability to think flexibly and solve problems creatively.  

Flexible thinking isn't easy or natural-feeling for many children. It's a skill, and it's one that can be taught.

Image via

Each year I read the book Beautiful Oops to my classes.  As the pages of mistakes, possibilities, and solutions go by, students are amazed by the creative prowess of author Barney Saltzberg. You can watch a video read of the book here. I spend the rest of the year, in every project, trying to support students in their own journeys to harness that open-minded attitude about artistic outcomes. 

Sometimes a mistake happens because a classmate accidentally drips paint on another person's paper. Sometimes a student erases so hard it makes a hole, spills the water cup across their work, or draws a shape in a non-erasable media that they don't like or didn't intend. Accidents happen, and are part of life, especially an artistic life.

To that end, I model what happens when an artwork has fallen victim to a "terrible mistake."  Sometimes I let a student scribble on an example I am doing. In front of the whole class.

Then, I ask the group to help me solve the problem. What could this perceived problem turn into? 

How does this translate to their own work? When they make a mistake (Oops!) they can ask peers for help to find solutions.

Oops. This rolled truck had been carrying 14 tons of paint; in Brazil in 2012, via Bored Panda
Last week, my first graders were drawing their homes. One of the young artists was terribly concerned about a "mistake."  The artist pouted and asked for new paper, seeming a little distressed.  
Here is what it looked like at the time:

Pretty good, I thought.  But I am not the artist, and not the one feeling a terrible mistake had occurred. In the end, I actually have no idea what the big mistake was, because when I suggested that the artist fix or change whatever part was a concern, in lieu of new paper, the artist took a sharpie and scrawled a large circle all over the center of it. Repeatedly. Oops. Even bigger problem to solve now.

I took that moment to pull out Beautiful Oops to read again to the class. I also asked a classmate of this student if we could recount his own story from last year, when the same thing happened to him. He was game, and even found it funny in retrospect from the vantage point of being a year past the event. 

Last year, he had drawn an owl, and "ruined" it.  He was in Kindergarten.  Unable to think of a solution, I invited him to come "ruin" mine as well.  And try, he did.  Big, red, angry scrawls all over my picture.  There were many bugging eyes and gaping mouths among my Kindergarteners that day as they watched their peer go about destroying my artwork with that crayon. 

When he was finished, I asked the class to help me fix it, to re-envision the red lines to become something new. After their initial moment of shock, they came up with all sort of suggestions, and in the end they made my owl have red feathers all over.  A simple and beautiful solution, actually.

Back to the artist of the house with giant scrawled circle.  After sharing this story, I invited this artist's peers to make suggestions to change the problem into something beautiful. The ideas came right and left.  "Draw a meteor hitting your house!" "It could be a giant snowball hitting your house!"

The artist found those ideas hilarious, and feeling much cheered that the original vision could be something new and different, created this:

"The Big Snow Ball"
Wonderful and unexpected, this cool work of art never would have happened without the mistake. Bravo! Cheers to flexible, creative thinkers everywhere!

1 comment:

  1. What an inspiring story, Joanna! You are creating a classroom culture that encourages flexibility and celebrates risk taking.