Lessons From an Artist

Teachers at our elementary school offer a few after school classes. Miss O has been taking one of these, The Art of Ancient Egypt, from the art teacher, Ms. McNeer. Fortunately for me, Ms. McNeer has taught me some great lessons about creativity in the process.

Creativity and artistry just waft off Ms. McNeer every time I greet her. Somehow she fits my image of someone who can fearlessly create and I’m so inspired by our short exchanges when I pick up Miss O from class. Here are my favorite lessons from Ms. McNeer:

Never wear your favorite clothes to art class

In one art class session, the kids were working on a project to remove a black layer and Miss O’s favorite shirt – a little pastel peach t-shirt ended up with a black stain right in the center front. When she sadly showed me this, she reported that Ms McNeer said, “Never wear your favorite clothes to art class.”

This reminds me that nice clothes or any other layer that makes me feel stiff, poised, or uncomfortable can be such a distraction to creation. Even though my preferred creative medium is words, it’s amazing how an itchy sweater or even bracelets on my wrists can spin my mind off in a different direction.

Beautiful oops

After several attempts at stain treatment and washing made it clear we weren’t going to get rid of the big black dot in the center front of Miss O’s t-shirt, we took the shirt bathed it in a deep red dye in order to camouflage it. It worked but not entirely so Miss O decided she’d just use the stain as the start of a design. When she reported this idea back to Ms. McNeer, she said, “Right, a beautiful oops!”

Ms. McNeer introduced us to a book by that same title, Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. Every tear, random drop of paint, and bent page ear becomes the germ of a new possibility. Tamara Kulish recently posted about Turning Poison Into Medicine, a Buddhist concept of turning suffering into joy.

It also reminds me of a story Mitch Teemley told us on the podcast. Vicki and I asked him how he was so productive with his blogging, filmmaking, speaking, and composing and he related a story about asking an improvisational pianist how she could perform for an hour or more on the fly. She responded that probably 90% of the content she’d used was stuff she’d practiced before. She just combines it in a new way every time she performs.

Tying this together, Mitch said that often things he publishes are things that are similar to that pianist – they are parts of projects that got scrapped or sidelined and then later on he finds a new life for. A beautiful oops in Ms. McNeer’s parlance.

I was feeling grumpy because I haven’t set aside my own time to create

Ms. McNeer isn’t teaching her after school art class for the next three months at school. When I was talking with her about this she offered, “I noticed I was feeling grumpy because I haven’t set aside my own time to create.

It brings to mind a quote from researcher and author Brené Brown, “We’ve found that unused creativity isn’t benign. It’s malignant.” Erin’s post from last week, Creativity in the Time of Cholera (Or Whatever Else Stands In Your Way) spoke to the same idea. Whatever is going on in life, it behooves us to set aside the time to create.

Here’s what I love about the programs my kids are involved in – sometimes I swear I learn as much as they do from these incredible teachers.

Please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com I also post on Wednesdays at the Wise & Shine blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)

33 thoughts on “Lessons From an Artist

  1. Miss O’s art teacher is a perceptive one–these are all great reminders, and I can relate to each of them. I can’t help but think how lucky Miss O is to be exposure these perspectives at such a young age, and how lucky you are to receive the gentle reminders whenever you drop into the classroom. 😊

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  2. I wondered the other day why I was a tad grumpy. I thought about my writing. It couldn’t be that, right? I actually have a few pieces written in advance. But, that’s exactly what it was. I had thoughts and ideas rolling around in my head and I didn’t have a chance to get them out. Ten minutes of at least getting the ideas down and I was fine. Love that you’re getting as much out of the class as Miss O! As Dr. Stein noted: simple, but profound lessons! Great lessons for us all! And oh yea, Miss O gets to fill your house up with Met or Louvre worthy pieces!☺️☺️☺️😎

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    1. Isn’t that interesting? 10 minutes and you got the ideas down. Amazing how just a little dedicated time helps! As far as the art goes, when my house fills up, I’m happy to send some to you! 🙂 ❤

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      1. Oh I’m in, sign me up. It can be a way to raise money for Miss O’s future art classes!!! For a nominal fee, you get an early work from a future master!!!! Ha, ha. Yes, those little breaks to release the creative energy really do make a different . . . at least for me.

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  3. What a joy it must be to create something beautiful out of an oops. Many of my mistakes usually live out the rest of their days as oopsies. . . anything without a backspace key doesn’t stand much of a chance. 😁

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    1. Well, Julia, I wonder if we make more oops than you do. Just yesterday I bet we had a half dozen things that spilled, got squashed, bled from one to another, and needed to be scratched out… 🙂

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      1. I dunno Wynne—most of my oopsie’s come courtesy of computer glitches (mine and the computer’s), and time confusion—showing up a day late or a week early, reading the clock wrong and missing a meeting—I’m chalking it up to being caught up in the shift from an old era to a new. What else could it possibly be? Certainly not missing marbles, right? Right???

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  4. I loved Mitch’s story…a reminder that ‘muscle memory’, kinesthetic memory/learning and creative inspo all run together! And Ms. McNeer? Can I come to art class with Miss O? 🥰🥰🥰

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  5. I totally agree that there are no mistakes when it comes to creativity and have seen first hand working with the grands on actual art pieces that while you never really know what will show up in the end, the process is the best part! We have had some of our best conversations during art as well so I love that every part of us is engaged and exploring. Now to my absolute favorite part of this post Wynne- your use of the word behoove 🙂 I am giddy whenever I see someone use that word in their writing or when they speak (and that is not often at all)! Long ago I used that word quite often and when the youngest Alison heard me she was convinced I had made it up- that it wasn’t a real word. I was shocked as she was the kid who would study languages for fun- like Greek, but I guess more archaic words weren’t on her list. It is a word you don’t hear often, but I love it 😉

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    1. That is hilarious about behoove, Deb! I had to search the page to find out where I’d written it. Right! or Write! 🙂 Funny that Alison didn’t know it – and that you love it. It’s so fun to know people’s favorite words and now I’ll always think of you when I hear behoove! 🙂

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  6. Ms McNeer sounds like a wonderful teacher, Wynne. I love the beautiful oopsie advice, the pragmatism of not wearing your favourite outfit to art class, and most importantly the timeless and ageless advice of creating space to create. Your kids are so blessed with such interesting and thoughtful teachers!

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    1. Yes, my kids are lucky with their teachers. I totally agree and am so grateful. I thought of you when I was putting down the third point about setting aside time to create – seems like you do that one awfully well!

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  7. I agree with everyone else. Everything has already been said. A great, insightful piece Wynne. My takeaway is to create time to be creative; not to neglect my creative needs

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  8. First of all, I want to thank you for including my link! It was so nice to discover a Pingback in my Inbox!
    Next: “Never wear your favorite clothes to art class.” I paint at home, and have been known to squeeze in little bits of creating time here and there, especially when I have a work in progress on the easel. No matter how careful I am, even at my age, I still manage to get paint on the unlikeliest things. My brand new fluffy bathrobe got a sleeve christened with Prussian Blue paint, and I only discovered it after it was dry. I try to remember to put on a smock, but the creative urge doesn’t always allow for that, especially when it occurs in the middle of the night!

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  9. I totally agree about the need to be creative if you want to live a balanced life. The thing I see happening is that people define creativity too narrowly then think they aren’t creative– but they are.

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