CreAtive MisTakes

A quietly getting around speech by Sir Ken Robinson at the TED Talks has been replaying in my thoughts. The topic of his talk revolves around the possibility that our education system is designed to emphasize the analytical, mathematical and dismisses the creative, artistic. At one point he says, “Kids will take a chance, and if they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong… if you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults most kids have lost that capacity. They’ve become frightened to be wrong….the result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities… We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.”

What has been hovering around in my thoughts, dipping down into the heart once in awhile, is the suggestion that we have come to operate in a system that doesn’t allow for being wrong, for mistakes. In it’s worst case it comes across as, “You make a mistake, people die;” the lesser, “You make a mistake, you are a fool.” (though, I am not so sure a part of us doesn’t die there, also).

To be creative, though, is to make mistakes… regularly. If you don’t allow for mistakes to be made, then why would you risk creating? As I considered this, it occurred to me that as much as I say I fear mistakes and failures in many areas of life, the reality is I tend to dive headlong into things welcoming the mistakes. It’s not just a matter of learning to be “right” – that is far too dichotomous and only emphasizing the poor system Robinson is talking about. It’s that I learn how to be a better artist. It is in the mistakes that the creative heart is plucked and flowing, bringing forth something fluid.

For instance I just picked up a Holga 120CFN Medium Format Fixed Focus Camera and don’t know the first thing about how to take pictures with it. I had to read the instruction manual just to know how to put the batteries in, and load film. But reading a book about Holga photography really only gets me so far. I have friend who is generous enough to help me learn the ropes along the way. But in the end, I am excited to just go out and take pictures, and see how bad or good they will be. I am anticipating the mistakes I will make with a bit of excitement because I know they will teach me how to be more creative. And maybe come our with some really fun pictures, among some really awful ones.

And sometimes the “mistakes” are the art. Beautiful things have come from failures and mistakes made by artists, and even scientists. Penicillin would be the most easily noted.

It is certainly clear to me that I take the long road of mistakes more often than the quick and easy short cuts to the end product. A question I have asked myself for years is: “What does it mean to live creatively?” It comes from an essay written by Francis Schaeffer in which he says (paraphrased), “No work of art is more important that one’s own life, and every one is called upon to be an artists in this sense. He may have no gift of writing, no gift of singing or composing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of the way he lives his life.” What if part of living creatively is living freely enough to make mistakes? What if part of “becoming more like a child” is not being “frightened of being wrong?”

What if the One who created us knew all this, all along? (It doesn’t mean we are mistakes, I’d hope:) What if religion has let itself be so influenced by the culture that it, too, is educating people out of their creative capacities? What if we weren’t created to, as Robinson says, “live in our heads…use our bodies as a kind of ‘transport’ for the head?”

The more I live the more I see that I can’t help but live creatively as I let go of my fear of being wrong.