One afternoon a couple of years ago, I was hanging out in a brewery during an art event working on a piece when I notice a young boy, around seven or eight, hanging off to the side watching me work. I invited him to come closer to observe and he asked a few questions about what I was doing and how I was doing it. I demonstrated a little bit about how to roll up paper and shape it how I wanted it to go into the piece. I let him roll up a few strips of paper as well, which he enjoyed, then I invited him to participate in working on the piece with me. At first he was really nervous and timid, afraid that he would do something wrong and I would get upset. But I assured him that there really wasn’t anything he could do to mess up the piece, and he continued to roll up paper and add it to the canvas. After a while, he forgot to be nervous, he forgot to worry about messing up, and we worked together rolling and adding paper.
After awhile, the boy’s dad came looking for him. When the boy saw his dad, he eagerly brought his dad over to see what he’d been working on, showing him how he rolled the paper and what we’d been working on. The little boy was so excited and so happy to have been allowed to work with me, that as he and his dad left the taproom I could see him talking excitedly to his dad all the way to the car.
As I watched them leave, I thought about how as young children we created art with wild abandon only to loose that inhibition as we got older. Suddenly there’s a lot of fear involved with making art… fear of doing things ‘right’, fear of judgement. It’s that fear that drives most people to put down the crayon, marker, pencil, paintbrush and only a few ever pick those back up again.
As the boy and his dad got into their car and drove away, I wondered what kind of lasting effect our little art session might have had. Instead of being told to look but not touch, or touch but don’t contribute, he was given an opportunity to engage. Sure there was fear that maybe something he did could mess things up, but there was room for that. The late great Bob Ross always said, there were no such things as mistakes only happy accidents. So what if his quills weren’t as neat as mine, or he used a color maybe I wouldn’t have chosen. Those little foibles didn’t take away from the whole and by the end of piece, no one could tell that my hands weren’t the only ones who worked on the project.
Today, two years later, I don’t know if the boy remembers me or the art piece, but I haven’t forgotten him. Sometimes the smallest ripples can create the biggest change, and that’s an idea I’ve wanted to explore. This year for Longmont ArtWalk in May, I’m once again going to be doing live art on the street. But this time, I’m going to set up a large canvas on the street and invite the community to come and participate in the creation of art. I want people to step outside their comfort zones, and maybe for a few moments go back to a time when making art was pure joy and there was no fear, no judgement.
I want to see how many ripples, as a community, we can create in one afternoon.