As goofy and carefree as our daughter is, she has a lot of the same rigidity that I always had growing up. I can see it in her, how she wants things to be a certain way, and how, without some coaxing, she can be very inflexible on how things should look. I have tried my best to instill in her the “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents” idea that my mother instilled in me, and that Bob Ross reaffirmed, and she actually does pretty well with that. But this day, I thought I’d try something new with her. Before she got home from school, I set up some washable paints, had a dropcloth on hand, a big bowl of water, and some drawing paper.
And I taught her how to Pollock.
You can read all you like about Jackson Pollock. And you can like his paintings or dislike them. I didn’t used to appreciate him. For me, it finally took understanding what his process WAS to really appreciate his work. (It’s still not my favorite work, but I have learned to see the value in it.)
Surprisingly, it was a unusually, beautifully, chilly but wonderful day in central Texas, so we were lucky enough to be able to go outside for our project.
And so I told her there was an artist named Pollock, who liked to make a mess. That got her attention. I told her that he made paintings where he stood over the paper with a bucket of paint in his hand and splattered paint on the paper. He danced around the canvas, he literally moved his body all over the room, splashing paint around, not caring if his shoes got splattered or if he got dirt in the paint. He made beautiful messes. For me, Pollock was more about the experience of moving with the paint, not so much about the final product.
So as we splattered and as she danced around the paper with her paintbrushes, I asked our straight-laced daughter (who doesn’t like scribbling at ALL), what she thought Pollock was trying to paint. She looked at the painting. She wasn’t quite sure. To her it just looked like a fun mess.
“Well, how does it make you FEEL to jump around with the paintbrush and make splatters?” “It’s super fun,” she said. “Maybe it just made him feel GOOD.”
Yes! I think it did. “Maybe that was what he did to feel better if he was frustrated. Or maybe he was showing how he feels when he’s angry. Or frustrated. Or excited. Or happy.”
She liked that idea. “I like to DRAW when I’m happy.”
Afterward, I brought her the head of Pollock I had drawn earlier in my sketchbook. “Would you like to draw on Pollock? What do you think he would be doing? Maybe he could have a bucket in his hand or a paintbrush or something?”
Excited to get back to her comfort zone, she happily picked up a pen and said, “Bathtub.” I wondered, at first, if she had lost interest in this project. “What? Why a bathtub?” I asked.
“Because he’s so MESSY! He’s getting paint everywhere!”
And of course it makes sense that when presented with splatters and chaos, our kid wants to tidy it up and make it pretty again.