On making mistakes

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My summer art classes at the Ateneo Art Gallery are about to end next week and I can’t help but look back on the times that I’ve spent with the kids. They entered my class—ten children ages 7 to 11 years old—eager to learn, full of curiosity and excitement, but were also apprehensive about being in a new environment. We were not in a classroom, but an art gallery, surrounded by artworks made by people decades ago. They had new classmates from different schools. Everything was new and after the first activity, they knew that this was not like any of their previous art classes.

From the beginning I encouraged all my students to make mistakes. I probably drove them mad because—coming from very traditional schools—they wanted to excel and get things right right away. “Teacher, is this correct?”, they kept asking me. They were so worried about getting things “right” that they forgot to have fun. There is no “right” or “wrong” in art—you just have to do it and enjoy the ride.

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I also push my students to explore and expand their creativity. Yes, they learned techniques like which pencil to use for what, how to mix their colors, and how to make sure two pieces of clay will stick together, but I focused more on how they could use these tools, turn them upside down, and create something new. Again, they asked me, “Teacher, is this correct?”, their fear of the unknown getting to them. And since they couldn’t control the outcome, they wanted to just stop or settle, but by helping them shift their focus from the “perfect” output or product to experimenting (which equals to making possible mistakes) and enjoying the process, comments like “I give up!” and “That’s okay enough.” slowly disappeared.

Yesterday they started working on their murals. They divided themselves into 2 groups—the girls (with one boy), who didn’t want to get their hands dirty at the beginning of this summer art workshop, faced their wall filled it with random symbols and words, and splashed it with colors. One girl had paint on her hair and just giggled while working. The boys—who were always rowdy and hyperactive—created a plan for their mural and silently worked on the details of their illustrations.

I’d like to think that they were able to learn a lot from this workshop; not just the technical things, like what is additive and subtractive sculpture, or knowing the names of the works in the gallery’s collection, but also about working through their fears and being less critical of themselves (which is sad to see in children at that age!). I hope that after this class ends they will continue to experiment, to face blank pages and walls with gusto, and, when creating, to learn how to jump without worrying if there is a safety net or not to catch them.

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