Getting it Right

I was recently talking to a participant at Brooklyn Park Lifeworks where I co-teach every Wednesday. After class she confessed to me that she is often afraid to speak up or to join the activity in class because she is afraid of saying the “wrong” thing or doing it “wrong.” I replied with the same response many of my improvisation teachers have said, “There really is no wrong choice, just doing it is getting it right.” And she replied, “Oh, well that’s disappointing.” I was blown away! I did not expect that that response and was at a loss for any words to comfort her. Whenever I remind myself that there is no “wrong” way to artistically express myself, I feel a bit free-er. But this information did the exact opposite for this particular participant, it paralyzed her even further.

I was really bothered by the fact that I could not comfort her any further in that moment. The next week at a staff meeting I brought this up to my fellow artists hoping their response could help me. Julie Guidry, Upstream Arts’ Executive Director, hit it on the head, “Well of course she was disappointed, if she can’t get it right, then why do it?” She wanted to succeed in getting it right. A fellow Teaching Artist, Norah Long, was also quite intrigued at the participant’s reaction, “That is really, really interesting. You are right there is no “right” way to create art. But you need to ask the questions, ‘Is it resonating with my audience, and, is this the strongest choice I can make?'” This was a more sophisticated way of relaying what I was trying to say to the frustrated participant.

It got me thinking of how I am often artistically “plugged up” and afraid to create because I might get it “wrong.” I was even tied up in my head about this blog all month, trying to write the “perfect” blog. Which leads to a deeper cause of fear: perfection and shame. “If I can’t create perfectly, then I am not going to create at all.” My annoying ear mite of a critic chants this often in my head. I can imagine that perhaps many of our participants feel the same way. “If I can’t do it right, then I will make a fool of myself.”

When simply the answer is, as Nike says, Just do it. Take the risk, get up and try something: dance, paint write!  Something will come out. You can always fine tune it once it is out, that is part of the artistic process after all. The most important thing is to simply show up and do the work.

I will leave you with one of my favorite proverbs when it comes to teaching, which can extend to the artistic process as well: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Post by Sarah Brown, Upstream Arts Teaching Artist