To Learn Creativity you have to First Learn How to Embrace Failure!

Posted on January 23, 2011


I was reading David Brooks op-ed this morning, Amy Chua Is a Wimp! Chua is the new face of the latest parenting rage, “The Tiger Mom.” Move over Soccer Moms. Chua portrays herself as a traditional Chinese mother and explores the difference between east and west in how we approach the education of children.

The Tiger Mom approach is repetitive perfection for perfection’s sake. Kinda like Art for Art’s Sake. The missing ingredient is I think Creative Imagination. In Amy’s world all answers are well correct or wrong. Failure is bad, with wrong answers and success is right answers! It is a very Black and White point of view in my opinion. A point of view that I also think dominates education and kills creativity and imagination.

Learning how to always get the right answer to get an A teaches us not to question the answer. It also teaches us to limit our questions to what we know are the right answers.

Failure on the other hand is perhaps the best teacher. What lessons in life do you most remember?

Creativity is developed from our failures. Failure is the heart of creative exploration. If you never risk failure you will never risk success.

Experience is what you have learned from both failure and success!

As an artist if you are unwilling to take risks, unwilling to fail, you will limit yourself and your success. I believe this is true in any profession.

I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. Jackson Pollock

Today in America we are struggling with ideas about education and our present struggle to remain a dominate power in the global economy. China has risen up and become a major competitor and we are looking for the answer, why?  In a few days from now I suspect that you will hear in the Presidents State of the Union address the reason he thinks we are falling behind. He will also (I think) outline broad solutions to how we will catch up or at least remain competitive. I also think that this initiative, has given rise to the Tiger Mom idea. We want our children to be successful and competitive.

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice. Albert Einstein

America has dominated the world in the Arts, Creativity and Invention for now more that a century. Why? Imagination and the freedom to express creative ideas in an open society, a society of immigrants who sought out the freedom to explore the unknown in an open society.

The problems we are facing with our current education model is a lack of imagination. While we search for a solution we use budget constraints to cut funding for the core programs that will insure our continued success; the Arts. This is a specific area Amy Chua shuns from what I have read, even though she has pushed her children into music. Her idea of music is a very balanced and predictable experience with a predictable outcome. There is only one way to play music and that is perfectly.

In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself. Albert Einstein

To compose music on the other hand one must be willing to make mistakes and that I think has lead many great composer’s and musician’s to success. Imagine a world without John Lennon. What if he had only pursued the correct idea of music?

Risking failure is everything in the creative process. Creative imagination is what our competitors lack. Do a little research and you will find that China, Japan, Korea are trying to import creativity? Culturally it appears these risky enterprises are not welcome in those societies because to be an immaculate sheep you have to be a member of the flock.

Little tolerance for ideas outside the box exists in China today, because China attempts to control the flow of information and ideas. They are very good at recognizing good ideas most of the time and they are even better at the innovation of borrowed ideas. Well, except for all the products you find in the dollar store. I gotta give it up to the Chinese because they innovated and figured out a way to sell all that crap.

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results. Albert Einstein

We have become a society that expects immediate and predictable results. I think this is the core premise behind the idea of the Tiger Mom. The problem I see with this approach is the future changes everyday. The predictable outcomes of today may not be the desired outcomes of tomorrow.

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. Albert Einstein

By now you have guessed I am having fun quoting a couple of the most creative people in recent history. I think in these quotes exists an answer to the power of imagination and creativity itself.

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. Albert Einstein

So the question is do we want to create a world of robots that just follow the rules only to learn the known predictable outcomes or do we want a world where the possible begins in the imagination and through the chaos leads us to fantastic advancements? The advancements of the last 100 years stand on their own.

And, since the model he faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model. Lucian Freud

That is a profound idea.

The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions. Susan Sontag

Do you see the similarity in the statements you just read?

Once I was asked to teach a creative learning class to fourth graders, with a traditional approach to visual art, drawing, sculpture, painting. Each segment was to have one week each. I thought about the offer and I suggested that we would spend one week on drawing and painting. Most kids in grade school do a lot of this kind of creative activity. Also not having an art teacher at the school it falls within the limits of most elementary school teachers.

Then two weeks with sculpture because the four teachers I was working with agreed this was an area seriously lacking in their art program and one week of free creativity.

We had fun the first three weeks, but we had a blast the last week. The last week was just plan crazy fun.

I had asked all the teachers to bring in boxes and I collected boxes myself. Refrigerator, dryer boxes, boxes of every size and shape we could find. We placed all the boxes in the large common room used by the four classes. I then told the kids to do with them what ever they wanted, no instruction no rules just the tools of the artistic trade. Of course since there was a lot of cutting of boxes we all offered guidance assistance and bandaids.

The results were just amazing!

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. H.G. Wells

Yep we got spaceships, submarines, club houses, cars, airplanes and some just strange sculpture. What we couldn’t get was the kids to stop inventing, creating. Boy those fourth grade imaginations!

Imagination, inspiration and excitement. If you want to succeed you really need to be excited about what your doing!  You also can’t be afraid of failing, so get rid of the fear.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. Henry Ford

Love what you do and encourage your children to explore life and when they find out what they love encourage that interest.

I think the person who takes a job in order to live, that is to say, for the money, has turned himself into a slave. Joseph Campbell

When I look at China, India and Japan and all their attempts to increase education, productivity I wonder about how the people feel? Is our future a future where the majority of us just work to support ourselves in jobs we dislike, are we destined to become slaves because we conformed to the ideas of our global competitors?  That is the message I get from Tiger Mom. It is also the message I get from American industry and many political and economic leaders. Are we supposed to just work like slaves and have no interest in what we are doing to earn a living? I think this idea is also at the heart of the failure in our education system. We are not engaging our children in ways to release their creative possibilities, we are not exciting them about unknown possibilities.

That is to say exciting them to explore knowledge while they learn the fundamentals necessary to pursue their ambitions. If you are excited about something you will find out what you need to know to pursue that excitement.

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls. Joseph Campbell

If you don’t get up everyday excited about what you do for a living do you want your child to have the same life experience?

I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate. George Burns

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea. H.G Wells

I am not sure anyone can see far into the future to predict what will drive the global economy of tomorrow. One thing I am banking on is the lessons of the past. That creativity will drive Tomorrow…

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities… Dr. Seuss

Rule of art: Can’t Kills Creativity! Camille Paglia

The future ain’t what it used to be. Yogi Berra

I don’t regret any art I have made only the art I didn’t make!

David Lee Eubank

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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