The Value Of A Good Coconut Tree

Sunday was a slow and rainy day, very much welcome as we have not had rain here since 1996.  It’s true, ask my lawn.

Rain brushed against the windows and falling acorns made the sound of popcorn popping as the wind shook them from the trees onto the roof.  Football noise filled the house and AD dozed on the couch in front of the TV.  Which left Sean and me with a wonderful afternoon of nothingness to fill.  It was a perfect day for artsy people like us, so we called up our inner-Picassos and sought out something creative to do.

I recently found a box that had been stashed away for years, and inside was a bunch of artsy crafty things like markers, craft wire, beads, fancy papers and four small blank puzzles among other things.  I handed the bag to Sean to dig through to see what elements would inspire him. He chose the blank puzzles.  He wanted to make a puzzle to give to his dad to solve at such time as he awoke from watching the game. . .

Before I even handed Sean the puzzle, I knew exactly how it would play out.  He would make three or four marks on the puzzle and then heave a big sigh of regret and slump his shoulders and hang his head – the posture of tragedy and lamentation.  He had messed up, nothing could be done to salvage the project.  It was not perfectly executed. There was no hope, none.  It was hideous and must be destroyed and hidden from view of the world.

I remember doing the very same thing when I was about his age.  I would sit down with much creative energy and an artistic vision in my head, one about seven clicks beyond my skill level.  I would make a few marks on the paper and then feel disgust at what I saw.  It was not perfect.  Not even close.  Then I would wad up the paper and throw it in the trash, wanting no one to see.

I would wad up paper after paper as I sought artistic perfection which never came.  And my mother let me.  Maybe she didn’t care about the wasting of paper or the environment, not very many people did in the 60s.  Or maybe the wadding and tossing of paper kept me busy which meant she could keep reading her book.  Nonetheless, I remember the frustration of not being able to perfectly transmit my idea to the paper and the dissatisfaction of never completing a project, never having anything to show for my time and effort.

Unfortunately for Sean, I am not as easy going as my mother.  I don’t allow wadding and tossing.  I make him finish what he started.  He doesn’t like that I make him do that, but he lives under a momocracy and Queen AM decides the fate of all paper and art supplies around here.

So I knew before I even handed Sean the puzzle that this is how it would go. That he would make a few marks and then heave breath and hang head and beg for a do-over.

Therefore, I  preemptively gave my little speech on how he needed to think through and consider what he was going to do before he made one single mark.  Oh yes!  He knew exactly what he was going to do! He didn’t need a sketch or a thumbnail!  That is for amateurs!  He had an artistic vision! I said that was awesome that he was so far advanced, that even DaVinci made thumbnails.  I reminded him that this was a one shot deal, no do-overs, that he was required to complete the project no matter what.

He decided that he would make a tropical scene, a palm tree with coconuts.  Unfortunately, about 63 seconds into the project, he decided that the coconuts didn’t turn out as he had hoped, which set off the heaving, hanging, slumping and lamenting.

He looked up at me with the practiced expression of hopeful, yet sad watery eyes.  Might he please, possibly, please have another blank puzzle?

And do you know what I said? I said No.

I said you figure out some way to make the composition work – that is the creative process – figuring out how to make your mistakes work.  No one makes perfect art.  But those who make good art, have learned how to do so by working through the failures.  Those who keep wadding up paper and throwing it in the trash hoping the next effort will be better, never get better.  Art is about making something good out of your mistakes.

Or maybe I was talking about life.  I don’t know.

He didn’t like that I made him finish his coconut tree puzzle.  He said it was a terrible coconut tree and he frowned a sad frown.

I don’t really enjoy making my child frown sad frowns (although it is kind of cute) but I know that some day, because I insisted, he will grow up to make good coconut trees, and you can’t really overestimate the value of that.

14 thoughts on “The Value Of A Good Coconut Tree

  1. I so enjoy your writing. I miss that you haven’t written in a couple of weeks i could read something everyday that you have written. PLEASE DON’T MAKE US WAIT SO LONG TILL YOU WRITE AGAIN.


  2. This was an interesting post. I had an art teacher who insulted my work in front of the class – I never drew after that but as an adult I am starting again. Homeschooling is so wonderful. Kids don’t have to put up with ridiculous criticism and can try and try again…

    Also, wonderful that you are teaching your kids to be sustainable… so needed nowadays.


  3. You know what? As I was sitting here thinking about your post, it hit me that of all the artwork that I have made growing up, my mother’s favorites are the “mistakes”. The lumpiest clay pots, the out-of-proportion still-lifes, the self-portrait where I accidentally drew my hand backwards. I used to ask her why she kept those displayed in her craft room, and she said that they were the ones that inspired her the most. I’m sure there’s a deep life message in there about one man’s “mistakes” being another man’s inspiration, but I’m not sure what it is. Suffice it to say that coconut trees are in the eye of the beholder.


  4. Great post and great lesson!

    I am SO thrilled that you are posting again…I have really missed catching up on what’s new in the AM World!


  5. There’s an after school art program in my county that is an “Eraser-free” art program. The kids are encouraged to work from their “mistakes”, and create something even better than they imagined! I love that theory!


  6. I work with a songwriter whose words of wisdom I spout to my 8 yo perfectionist at every opportunity: “You have to give yourself permission to write a bad song.” If you never write a bad song (draw a bad coconut tree, bake a bad cake…) you will never write a good one.

    The other thing I will someday be famous for annoyingly repeating throughout her childhood is “Practice makes good.” There is no perfect.

    I’m curious how Sean’s coconut tree turned out and how he felt about it in the end.


  7. Frank Bielec, the jovial Santa Claus look-alike designer of Trading Spaces fame, once made a comment to a home owner that made me realize why I loved him so and why he was a good designer. They were making just some random abstract design on a table or something. She (like I would have been) was frozen but he coaxed her into starting and trying. She had not put too much paint on the table when she said, “Oh, no, Frank! I made a mistake.” Without even looking, Frank very calmly said, “There are no mistakes in design. Only embellishment opportunities.” and with the flip of his brush he helped her turn it into even more beautiful. Sean probably already knows what embellishment means — you are in the process of helping him understand that mistakes are only embellishment opportunities. Valuable.


  8. Wonderful life lesson! It may not always be easy, but sticking with it and stretching creatively is a very good thing. I, too, was a start and wad child. I wish someone had told me this many years ago.


  9. My son put a big, fat, X over a perfectly wonderful drawing yesterday. No matter the comments from both me (and later his Daddy for whom he was drawing) he insisted it wasn’t RIGHT. This perfectionism is innate. I do not demand perfect art–or really, perfect anything. I love your explanation to Sean that we only get better by making something worthwhile from our mistakes. Both in art AND in life. Go you.


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