All throughout middle school, the art teacher's main critique of my performance in her class (I went to a tiny school, so we had many of the teachers from 6th to 8th grade) is that I lacked creativity. She seemed to think that I only wanted to "color within the lines," and I wouldn't disagree with her. It seems silly looking back, but I remember being so anxious about messing up that I could hardly bring myself to begin. Each pen or brush stroke was painstakingly slow and strictly controlled, definitely not adjective that I've heard successful artists use when describing their process. My friend once bumped the table I was working at, which resulted in a small, jagged pen mark where I hadn't planned one to be, and for a second it felt as though the world was coming to an end. I was going to fail the class, drop out of middle school, and never amount to anything.
Thankfully, this catastrophic outcome was averted by a bit of Wite-Out, but I found myself facing similar anxieties when I learned that eighty percent of our grade in Honors 394 would be based on a creative, archival project. This was definitely not what I thought I had been signing up for when pressing "Register" on MyUW the previous spring. I spent hours (and hours) cycling through possible projects that were just artistic enough to fall into the category of creative while also just formatted enough to feel as though I was in control. Finally, I landed on the topic of memory.
As a psychology student, I had a solid understanding of memory formation and storage, along with studies elucidating what happens when these processes are interrupted in different ways. Thus, I decided I would choose a couple of photos and then alter them in different ways to represent various changes in memory, which later evolved to a focus on both memory and perception.
Everything went well at first. I found my photos (one of my cousin and me when we were young and one of my mother and a younger sister figure in their childhood), wrote up a full proposal, and found a number of relevant archival artifacts by other artists. The night before a rough draft was due for presentation in class, I scrambled to create a number of images, satisfied with how clean they looked, and... was told that the pictures were too similar, lacked dimension, and that while the idea was a creative one, the product did not reflect this (all stated much more constructively). I didn't know what to do. In other courses I would have studied harder, gone back through a textbook until it felt imprinted on my mind, until I had a command of any knowledge we could be tested on. But we didn't have a textbook, there were no tests to memorize information for, and I had no idea how to teach myself how to be creative. So I let go. Instead of focusing on controlling the outcome and planning out my creativity, I forced myself to stop thinking and start creating. Instead of tracing clean edges, I ripped paper and drew jagged lines. I pretend that the crooked edges of my cardboard cut-outs and the fact that one of the rolls of black tape I used to cover my boxes was slightly more see-through than the other didn't make me cringe, but it was also liberating. Not only was the process more enjoyable, but I was happier with my final showcase, as was my instructor.