I am perturbed…
Recently, Daddy suggested I give Hercules a canvas and let him create something with it. Aristotle’s early abstract pieces adorn our walls but Hercules has yet to have a canvas with his name on it. So it was time to correct this oversight…
Unfortunately, I had one canvas and one easel but two boys wanted to paint. So I told Aristotle he could paint a picture with Hercules on the same canvas. Although the intention was merely to give Hercules a chance to create something we could keep, this shared exercise unveiled some interesting insights for me.
When I first suggested a shared canvas, Aristotle protested. “What if Hercules wrecks the painting?” Was the response I received. It was a fair protest since Hercules has destroyed more than his fair share of his brother’s artwork (but only because he so desperately wanted to have a go at it). So I introduced Aristotle to the concept of “abstract art” and showed him examples of abstract art paintings.
If you’re really interested, there are plenty of Youtube videos (like this one) teaching some very easy abstract art techniques.
It was interesting to observe the reaction of both boys when I finally gave them access to the canvas and paints. Hercules was all “let-me-at-it” gung-ho style. He dug into the paints and was all over the canvas before Aristotle had even dipped a finger in paint. Aristotle was hesitant. He wasn’t sure how to do abstract art and was worried he would get it wrong. I assured him that you couldn’t get it wrong because there was not “right” or “wrong” with abstract art. He finally started painting, but he kept wanting to draw a “picture” and he would keep looking over at his brother’s work and lament that his brother was better at this than he was.
I don’t quite know what to make of all of this but it bothers me. I raised this question some time back about the importance of teaching children that it’s okay to be wrong. Aristotle wasn’t always like this, clearly, because the boy that created all those “abstract art” pieces years ago was not concerned about the “right way” or “wrong way”. I have been aware of his concern about being wrong but not to the extent that he would be hesitant even to splash a bit of paint onto a piece of canvas for fear of “getting it wrong”.
There is an example that Ken Robinson points out in his book The Element, you may be familiar with this example if you have heard him speak before:
All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think. When my son was four, his preschool put on a production of the Nativity story. During the show, there was a wonderful moment when three little boys came onstage as the Three Wise Men, carrying their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I think the second boy lost his nerve a little and went out of sequence. The third boy had to improvise a line he hadn’t learned, or paid much attention to during rehearsals, given that he was only four. The first boy said, “I bring you gold.” The second boy said, “I bring you myrrh.”
The third boy said, “Frank sent this.”
Who’s Frank, you think? The thirteenth apostle? The lost Book of Frank?
What I loved about this was that it illustrated that, when they are very young, kids aren’t particularly worried about being wrong. If they aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, they’ll just have a go at it and see how things turn out. This is not to suggest that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. Sometimes being wrong is just being wrong. What is true is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.
I agree with Ken in this respect and I will take it one step further. If you are too busy being worried about being wrong all the time, it stops you from being the best you can be. That’s not the way I want my child to live his life. So how do you help your child learn to let go of the fear of being wrong? I used to think that Art classes might be the answer, but Aristotle has been actively participating in creative art classes and clay art classes and he still worries about being wrong.
We’ve talked about how being wrong can be good and how even experts get things wrong. I gave examples of how paleontologists used to think apatosaurus and brontosaurus were two different dinosaurs but now they know they are both one and the same. Then there is the ongoing debate on whether torosaurus and triceratops are the same dinosaur. Even the experts get it wrong and sometimes they don’t know the answers.
The fear of making mistakes that prevents any action is a problem that inflicts a lot of people. To see it developing in my child at such a young age is a concern.
What can we do to prevent this? What do you do to teach your children that it’s okay to be wrong?