What Happens When You Fail Art Class

My elementary art teacher and I didn’t enjoy each other’s company.

I distinctly remember one time when I accidentally dropped my eraser on the floor and she stopped showing us how to make snowmen out of cotton balls to yell at me for playing around in class.

In my defense, the snowman project was incredibly boring.

The way she had us make things were always by the book. You have the instructions, the guidelines, and you do EXACTLY what the rules tell you to do. For myself, I personally enjoyed branching out to make whatever project we were doing a little more personalized.

On one particular project, we were told to create a paper mâché wind chime. The instructions were simple: create a ball of paper mâché that would hang from a string which would in return knock into each other to make a sound…therefore, a wind chime. It was also was early spring, so we were told to use vibrant Easter colors.

This project was just fine, outside of one overlooked issue: when struck together, paper balls do not make the sound of a wind chime. Also, I wasn’t a big fan of bright colors. I wanted to paint mine dark.

“Excuse me teacher, but I don’t get this.”

“What don’t you get?”

“When you hit these paper balls together, they don’t make any sound. We’re making wind chimes here. They’re suppose to make sound. Also, all these colors are super bright and I’d like to paint mine black.”

“Just make the paper balls and paint them pink or yellow.”

“But…they don’t make any…”


At this point, I was a little irritated. “Why are we even doing this project? They don’t even do what a wind chime is suppose to do. They’re just for decoration. They don’t serve any purpose.”

So, just like any strong-willed second grader would do, I took took the situation into my own hands.

After making the paper mâché balls, I glued little pieces of metal that was left from a previous project all over the balls so when they hit each other they would make a sound. “See! This is effective!” I realized that I had gone above and beyond what my art teacher asked me to do.

I also painted the balls black because I was a little stubborn child who didn’t want yellow paper mâché balls. I had essentially made three giant gothic-looking balls that looked like they were a medieval battle weapon.

"Art project completed." I couldn’t have been happier with my creation. 

I waited in anticipation as my art teacher went around to each desk, giving praises to everyone’s brightly colored, dull sounding wind chimes. She then proceeded to my desk.

“…what is this.”

“It’s my wind chime. I decided to make a few adjustments to the…”

“Give it to me. You didn’t follow instructions. You get an F and this is going in the trash.”

I was completely devastated. I understood that I didn’t follow the instructions the way I should have, but this was better than what she said to do.

“...you’re going to fail me AND throw away my creation?" I spent the next 30 minutes in tears and in anger as I watched the rest of the class hit their non-chimey wind chimes together outside on the playground. 

I took away two major truths to this particular Wednesday in 2nd grade: First, I didn’t follow instructions or the rules, which is why she failed me. I later apologized for my actions and regretted the fact that I didn’t do what was asked (in all honesty, half of my apology was just so she would let me get my wind-chime-battle-axe invention out of the trash can).

Secondly, I took a risk. I went off the path that she told us we had to go down. I decided to not do what everyone else was doing, and made the artwork mine.

To this day, I’m glad that I took a risk. 

Rick involves danger. Exposure. It involves change…and sometimes, change that you don’t necessarily want. Risk exposes you. Risk puts you to the test. And risk can quite easily leave you emotionally bloody and damaged.

We all have things in our lives that we are afraid of even contemplating the thought of going near. Almost impossible goals. Relationships being torn. Change. Conflict. Opposition. Judgement.

This battle of change is initiated when we bring risk into our lives. Some artists decided to take the easy road - what I like to call the “yellow paper mâché ball” road, and do what everyone says they must do. Then there are those risk takers; the ones that take the “black metal ball” road. The ones who choose what their artistry will look like. The ones who choose to listen to the Creators voice to be the creation they were intended to be.

I firmly believe risk is one of the biggest ingredients we need to become the best and most unique creators on earth. Here’s the thing about risk: risk will remove all artistic shelter from our lives. Any barrier we have set up before this time will be completely gone.

As an artist, we must learn that the biggest roadblocks towards success is removing the artistic status-quo, and following a life of artistic risk.

And that's when ideas become great works of art.

Artist: I encourage you to abandon the monotonous template of artistry, and draw outside of the lines. You'll be surprised what may be created when you decide not to follow what everyone else is doing. Finding your voice in your work can sometimes be confusing and frustrating; not only to those around you, but also to you. Choose risk. Challenge yourself. And in the long run, you'll be able to look back at a moment in life when you realized what type of artist you are called to be.

Also, to my second grade art teacher: thanks for failing me. You taught me what type of artist I am.