Pandaji's Blog

Art, research, education

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Action research project: the creative process and learning through mistakes

The phenomenon of the motivational forces that appear to spur artists to engage in artistic production have been noted and described in various ways. Lee Emery collates these descriptions in his article Believing in Artistic Making and Thinking. (Emery, L. 1989) Piaget (1952) referred to “disequilibrium as providing a force for thinking,” while G.M. Mead (1934) referred to “impulse as a disturbance of equilibrium.” Ross (1978) described it as “The antagonistic principle” and stated: “The creative individual enters into a contest which involves some pain.” Ross also wrote about the artist as seeking to resolve “some felt disturbance.” Ross (1978). Ross perceived the artistic process as involving risk and difficulty. Earlier, Dewey described it as a form of enquiry, beginning with a “felt difficulty.” Dewey (1910, p. 72) Dewey also stated: “The artist has his problems and thinks as he works.”

Langer (1959) contended that when the artist works in empathy

with the artistic process, the “very fibres of the body are affected.”

Grayson Perry has a motto above his studio door that reads: “Creativity is mistakes” and in his opinion, it is “the thing that is so difficult to deal with.” (Perry. G. 2010) In my opinion, creativity means allowing for mistakes to be of use. This was beautifully illustrated by student 3’s final showpiece made of paper porcelain and lining a rusty exhaust pipe that was cut in half.

Plate 3

Student 3 final piece

Plate 3: student 3, final piece

The work was built absolutely straight and I propped all but two places, where, during the firing, it slumped outwards. One place exactly matched a rusted part. For the other, we had to bend the pipe in order for it to fit snugly. The student was disappointed with the piece because she expected it to be straight. However I thought the piece had wabi sabi and was a “kiln gift.” The student’s acceptance of the “mistakes” was the hardest part for her to deal with. To ensure her piece would stay straight, it could be propped all the way along. Conversely, to make one which slumps in exactly the right places would now be possible because of the learning gained from this experience. My own learning also increased because of this “mistake.”

In response to my Action Research Questionnaire, students made their own observations on learning through mistakes: “Being able to try and experiment something out for myself really helped me to learn by trial and error.” And “I found it extremely useful. It was nice to be able to learn from my own mistakes and get some really interesting results.” These observations support Danvers’ (2003) conclusion of the importance of learning through failure.