The Fear of Making Mistakes
Last night, Abby and I attended a paint night for Mother’s Day.
The idea behind the paint nights is that someone who is actually good at painting teaches you how to paint your picture step-by-step to make it easier for us non-artists. It’s pricey, but it is a fun and relaxing experience and you come away with a product you made yourself. It’s my third time to do it, and I love it. I was excited to share it with Abby.
As I suspected, Abby loved and flourished inside that experience.
But the experiences happening around us were quite a bit different from our own.
Across from us, a grandmother and her grandson were painting together, and as we learned through listening, his painting would be a gift for his mother. I guess that is the reason the grandmother put so much pressure on the boy. As Abby and I painted and listened to the teacher and chatted, we had front-row seats as the grandmother scolded, berated, and pleaded with the boy.
She didn’t think his painting was good, that much was evident. She alternated pleaded with him to just listen to the teacher and telling him he was doing it wrong. Later, Abby told me he asked her if his flowers were good and she said they looked like train wrecks. Honestly, she didn’t seem like a horrible person. But she definitely wasn’t mentally prepared for a paint night with a little boy, and her expectations for this would-be gift painting needed to be adjusted to “whatever you paint, your mama will love.” Maybe if she had that attitude, he would have had a good time.
On the other side of us was a little girl about Abby’s age with her mama. Before the painting even started, the girl was already anxious. As the night went on, the mom (who was desperately drinking a Monster energy drink) tried with all her might to prop the girl up emotionally as the girl pouted over her mistakes. She pouted, cried, refused to paint for awhile, and blamed her mother. See? You can do that right and you are not showing me how. I’m not sure how the mom actually completed her own painting with the effort she was putting into the little girl’s fragile psyche, but I can’t imagine they had a good time.
If it sounds like I’m being judgmental, that’s fair. But actually, I see myself in them. I also tend to soak up the emotional atmosphere of those around me, so I had to mentally shut them out to enjoy the time with Abby.
Fear of making mistakes either keeps us from making art, or keeps us from enjoying the process. There wasn’t enjoyment in these four individuals around me last night. Instead there was a “must get it right” attitude that was spoiling the fun. I get it: I wanted my painting to look good, too. But if we aren’t willing to make mistakes, we can’t make art.
If you look right in the center of Abby’s painting, you see two stems entwined. Under that spot was a mistake Abby made. Her brush just swerved out making a stray line. She looked stricken for a moment, and I was trying to think of a solution for her, but I didn’t have to. I know what to do! She said, and painted her stems overlapping in that exact spot. No one else’s stems were overlapping. In the end, it was my favorite part of her painting. It looked more natural that the perfectly straight-standing stems on my own picture.
Learning how to turn mistakes into art means we have to trust that our value isn’t based on always getting it right.