Monday, March 15, 2010

Practice Makes Fluent

A while back, I read the phrase "Practice Makes Fluent" on Liz Massey's blog, Creative Liberty. I told her I was going to embroider it on a pillow. No progress on the pillow yet. But I'm thinking this sampler I made as a 4-H project back in the 1960s says almost the same thing, if not in so many words.

Earlier this month, I pulled this sampler out of the cedar chest (bad storage practice, I know). I wanted to use a photo of it in the Powerpoint presentation that accompanied my "Complete Fabrication" keynote address at the Missouri Art Education Association conference. The sampler is still pinned to the design board in my studio because I haven't had time to put it away. And ideas have been incubating. Like, not only do art and stitching improve with practice, but so do skills like hospitality and friendship.

I love that our friends' kids enjoy coming to our house. We enjoy making things with those kids, and are grateful when their parents don't seem to mind a bit of paint or mud on their offspring.

The kids sort of know what we do for a living. But they're too young to realize yet the years of practice it took for us to develop the skills it takes to live our lives. That includes learning to represent trees that don't look like lollipops (not that there's anything wrong with lollipop trees), and everything else it takes to be self-employed artists. It also includes being able to throw together a simple meal, shut the door on the embarrassing mess in the office, and have fun with friends playing Phase 10 or Swipe.

It takes practice to make fluent the language of friendship. We're fortunate to have friends who understand that when I say, "It'll be just soup and bread," I really mean, "The amount of effort I put into this meal doesn't begin to reflect how much I enjoy your company and want to spend time together."

Last week, there was another post on Creative Liberty that caught my attention. It was a link to a post by Annmarie Thomas called Why Making Matters. She writes:
There’s another important lesson to be learned through early exposure to building and creating. It’s that making often fails. Any of us who build stuff for a living have had our share of failures. If inventors and engineers stopped at their first failure, we wouldn’t have the airplane, the lightbulb, or countless other great inventions. Learning to work through failure is painful, and best learned early. If a child’s only building project is for a class assignment where failure means a poor grade, it’s understandable why they might not be excited about building things- failure’s scary. But if a child is taught the pleasure of making, failure becomes part of the process.
So I'm trying to decide if, instead of putting this sampler back in the cedar chest, I should display it in my home so the kids can see that I worked for many years to go from lollipop trees to the work I'm doing now. Or I could just scorch the soup and laugh about it. What do you think: How do we encourage kids to be makers, and to understand that failure is part of success?

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