This is a picture of a very happy accident.
Here’s a story about what happened in the making of this very happy accident.
This sunny afternoon, I had set up the studio for watercolour experiments. As students began experimenting with the watercolour paint the workstation became more crowded than anticipated. (What is they say about the best made plans...?) In the excitement one of the dirty, painty, muddy, containers of water spilt across the table. GASPS. OH NO! We’ve ruined the papers! We’ve ruined the ART! We’ve got a mess, quick must clean ASAP! These used to be the thoughts that ran through my head. But, I don’t stress about it as much anymore because someone somewhere said “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” Well this isn’t milk, but I think the same applies. So what does that old saying mean and why does it apply in the studio?
During this particular event I embraced this accident, as did the students. The 'mistake' of knocking over the water did not have to result in panic or anger. It could be more than just discarded paper (my nightmare) and a mess to clean up if we were open to the possibility. It seemed we were open. As a collective we looked at event as an invitation to play with different possibilities. One student quickly thought to put the wet paper in the sunlight so it could dry a bit faster. Soon after another suggested we pat it with some paper towel to pick up some of the bigger pools. I wish I could say this was all part of the plan. The watercolour experiments were intended to allow for creative problem solving, thinking differently about materials, challenges, and unexpected situations, but I truly didn't imagine it become this collaborative. Here I was really participating in what makes me value the role of art education. We all went back throughout the workshop to check on the paper, to see what effects the sunlight was having on it as it dried. That saying about watching paint dry is wrong! This was fun! The students, and myself were noticing the transformation of this soggy paper as the pigment separated in certain areas, or gathered and mixed in others.
This event made me consider my work in art education, but also my life in general. If I treated all my accidents and mistakes as “ruined paper" I really don’t know what I’d be left with. I’ve seen the art room be a place where mistakes are explored, vulnerability is embraced, and failures are key to learning and growing. The art room and studio have provided me with a space where I can be vulnerable, open to mistakes and failure and seeing what I can take from those unforeseen events. How can I apply this attitude in other areas of study, work and life? It's not the first time I've reflected on such experiences and their role in my practice and life. It brings me back to my work studying relational pedagogy and art education while researching my master's thesis. I've struggled with balancing the role of art educator or teacher with being vulnerable, showing that I too am learning from the processes and the shared experiences.
I have found a place to stew and grow in the discomfort. When I'm open and honest that I don't have all the answers, I don't always know what's going to happen I am being real, and hopefully breaking down barriers (my own and those of the people I work with). I've found that practicing this type of transparency and acceptance of the unknown, of embracing failure as part of the process through modelling and embodying these philosophies can create a space where it’s ok for everyone to be open to the unknown, the unforeseen, the “spilt milk”. And, hopefully the way of thinking about and experiencing these happy accidents in the art studio trickles into other areas of students’ lives. “In the context of community arts the aesthetic dimension, with its potential to rupture given realities, provides a kind of space for liberation that can alter our sense of being in the world.” (Haynes, 2013, p. 302) This is about much more than how to draw an apple, sometimes we just need a spill to remind us of the breadth of possibilities out there.