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  • Kyra Sjarif

Permission to Make Mistakes

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

As an art therapist, I have noticed people’s hesitation in engaging with the creative process: “I’m not good at art,” “I’m not an artist,” or “It isn’t perfect.” The underlying thread of these responses relates to our inner critic, and our fear of failure or of having others see and regard us as incapable. The art, tangible and concrete, becomes a symbol of one’s perceived “incompetence,” and often, self-deprecating comments accompany the sharing of one’s artwork. While leading an Open Arts Studio group at Nationalities Service Center (NSC), I heard a few participants mutter the same words in response to their artwork: “No good.” We were working on Aboriginal dot paintings that particular session, using Q-Tips dipped in acrylic paint to create pieces inspired by this particular tradition. Their compositions consisted of dots in various colors used to create bold outlines of subjects of their choosing. As participants worked on their respective paintings, carefully applying dot after dot, the process itself seemed meditative, with many individuals working in silence, focused and engrossed at the task at hand. I watched Ria* (pseudonym), an older woman from the Middle East, meticulously drawing scales for her image of a fish. Upon completing the scales and details, she began adding dots into each scale, carefully applying the paint in a methodical fashion. When I came by to check on her progress a few moments later, she pointed to her drawing and said to me, “No good,” as some blue paint had smeared on the side of her page. I encouraged her to keep going and see what would unfold during this process. Towards the end of group, I passed Ria and noticed that she had added wavy blue lines and dots in the background, all around the fish, mimicking the smear she had made earlier. She explained that the fish needed water to live, and laughed that without it, it would be dead (as indicated by a swift hand motion and a gasping sound). In that moment, Ria had demonstrated the ability to transform what she initially perceived to be a mistake into an asset, utilizing that “accident” to create a living environment for her fish. Despite her initial misgivings, Ria overcame her perception of her artwork being “no good” to using her smear to serve a different purpose. - Kyra Sjarif, MA

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