The Freedom to Create Waste / by Carey

(I wrote this piece for The Creative Mama blog - see it here - in November and I wanted to share it here as well)

Art is Expensive.

The creation of art is expensive.

The process of learning to make art is expensive.

And it is a luxury that so many are never afforded the opportunity to experience.

The Creative Mama - Carey Pace - The Freedom to Create Waste

I didn't grow up having a lot of things. There wasn't much in the way of art supplies. When I did get to experience using them, it was when I went to Grandma's house. But her things were... expensive.    Fragile.    To be revered. To be careful with.     To make perfect finished projects with.      Used with supervision.    You did not waste. 

I believe some of that was due to her having grown up on mountain farmland in the years following The Great Depression. You were frugal. It wasn't a choice or a decision - it was what you did, who you were. You didn't waste. Anything. Period.  

This was passed to me probably both as a philosophy and out of necessity. If you didn't get a lot of supplies then you were very careful with what you did have, and you saved scraps. All scraps. You used both sides of things. As an adult today, to throw something away because I don't have an immediate use for it feels like I'm defying a natural law of the universe. 

It is wise to be frugal, except for when you consider art.  The freedom to create, use, experiment, manipulate, and play with artistic mediums without the fear of repercussions for generating mistakes or waste is a luxury that many in this world don't ever hope to experience.  I was struck by this several weeks ago while watching my daughter happily create with abandon at her art table.  How many children would be just as wildly creative as she if they only had free access to the materials?  

For those of us who do have this luxury, are we denying our children the opportunity and the creative breakthrough that comes with the access and freedom to waste?

We converted our formal living room into a large office a couple years ago. For my daughter's fifth birthday, we added two inexpensive Ikea tabletops butted up against each other and my existing computer desk.  We placed the entire large work surface into the middle of the room.  All the art and craft supplies were placed in pretty containers she could access herself without my intervention.  White Paper. Glue. Markers. Crayons. Colored Pencils. Stickers. Fancy scissors. Craft Foam. Beads. Colored paper.  Pipe cleaners. Popsicle sticks. Pompoms. Paper punches. Paints and quality paint brushes. Oil Pastels. You name it.  We now call it The Art Room.

As I wrote in my piece about allowing my daughter to choose how she dresses each day, I'm learning a lot about control in my life. I vividly remember watching the toddler-her draw scribbles on one small part of a sheet of paper. Declaring her masterpiece finished, she flung it aside to begin another. Internally I felt immense tension.  

WASTE!  Look at all the rest of that paper she hasn't used!!! And there's the whole back side of the sheet!  You can't let her WASTE paper like that!  You're teaching her that wasting is acceptable!!!!  You must stop her!  You must control this!  You are being an irresponsible mother if you allow this!

Yet, if I spoke to that wastefulness....

You'd be stifling her creativity!  You are communicating to her that the art she's created isn't beautiful and of value to you, the way she wanted it to be seen.  You are taking the joy out of the free play by enacting demands and requirements on how art should be created. You are stepping in and controlling something that isn't yours to control. 

That day I decided I'd indulge the waste.

I would not step in and make her use the full page for her scribbles. I would not enact the both sides of the sheet rule. I would allow her to make her own art her own way. I would let go of that control and accept the waste that comes with learning to create beautiful things.

I still feel the waste-monster rise up inside when they request 27 acrylic paint colors for the palette that I know won't get fully used. I force myself to let her glue a whole package of pompoms to one poster, knowing I now need to replenish the supply for a piece of art I likely won't save.  I stifle the urge to rush in and save her from making mistakes and learning the dos and don'ts of different mediums on her own.  

At six years old, she is so creative and innovative with amazing ideas. I cannot help but believe that the permission to waste has played a role in that.  She has taught me that we learn to make better art with the freedom to fail. 

It may feel like you are throwing money down the drain to allow unlimited access to art supplies, but you are not.  

You are making an investment in the artist she will become in the future.