(Nope this is not JUST about art!)

It has indeed been awhile since I’ve posted any “thoughts” but I’ve been inspired to write a few after a spring & summer of training for my first Duathlon (and a couple days before I actually participate in the race).

Pushing and challenging your personal limits tends to lead to some self-reflection. Maybe not when you’re gasping for oxygen or grabbing for your barely out-of-reach water bottle...but more-so in that cool down walk or stretching time. 

While instructing and introducing art projects or brainstorming ideas, I often make the statement to both children and adults that I don’t wish to hear them say that they “aren’t artistic.” I ask them to consider what sorts of things they creatively pursue in their lives...do you randomly add your own special spices while cooking? Do you like to design your own LEGO structures instead of just following the instructions? 

In this age of 1 minute Pinterest & Instagram videos (which I intend to make because they are super-efficient at communicating your point!), photographic filters and auto-tuned music, our brains are filled repeatedly and daily with the “perfect final product.” I am guilty of it too.  If I post the final artwork of my students, you can be sure it won’t be the ones with accidental splatters or the kiddo who decided that my instructions were boring. Viewing what “can be” achieved in a final product is both inspiring, and also sometimes so daunting that we give up before we begin. 

I will openly admit that I despise running. I love biking so at least half this race appealed to me. That meant I had to learn to run, not just barely survive it but really dig into my reserves and push past the feeling of coughing up a lung at 0.5 km and keep running. I watch people who obviously run as their regular form of exercise and I see fluidity, and ease of motion and think, “yeah that’s not me.” Then I realize this is how some children and adults often look at art, saying “that’s not me, I’m not creative.”

This is where the beauty of the process steps up and steps in. 

A process can be purposeful, or it can happen by default.  Purposeful process in creating often focuses on the end product; does it look shiny, attractive and photo worthy? Purposeful process in race training could mean barely finishing for one person and for another, crossing the line in the top three. When I think of my experience training, I think of the students who are struggling with the same skill or technique that might come easily to the child sitting next to them. I can guarantee that other Duathlon participants will blow by me on foot or on wheel, while I try to navigate my next step carefully. In those moments I hope I can remind myself that the fact that I am even there competing is the product of weeks and weeks of process. That process has taken me from wheezing and side-aches to actually looking around, and enjoying the changing leaves, as I run much longer distances and feel stronger. My goals are far from those of an advanced athlete, but it is my own process - and I have learned and gained much from it!

Though this seems a bit of a mouthful: The product of process is character building. Finishing a race or an art piece involves perseverance and endurance which are ONLY learned through the processes of training, learning and making many mistakes. If I tried to show up on race day with no prior work on breathing, cadence, stretching and strengthening...injury and embarrassment would likely ensue! 

The steps toward creating art (which we often assume should flow freely) can be fraught with frustration. It is in this process that we, and children, are learning myriad skills...leave that to dry longer, don’t mix those colours, do mix those colours, that composition looks off, that eye doesn’t look right, that tree seems too small...you get the idea.

In the case of student projects, the final masterpieces will inevitably take their temporary place on a school wall side by side, where the temptation to compare sneaks in and sometimes can steal away the joy of the process. So how do we define “success” in these situations?  Reflecting through verbal, written or sketched documentation helps us and children deconstruct that final product, and realize the important lessons learned WHILE completing the project. 

For example, this might be the first time you’ve ever tried a watercolour technique or you might notice that your drawing of an animal looks a little more in proportion than the last time you attempted it. Perhaps you were introduced to colour combinations or tools you’ve never imagined before...all successful process. 

So, this weekend as I drive out of town with my family and dozens of other crazy people who are still going to lace up despite new snowfall, trail closures due to bears and a chilly head wind...I will remember that a very valuable process has taken place, providing me with experiences I would have not gained any other way except struggling to cross that finish line.