I had an art teacher when I was in elementary school who was fond of saying "there are no mistakes in art," and wouldn't let us erase or correct errors we'd made.
I always resented this. The implication here is that art is by nature frivolous, and that serendipity brings as much to the table as artistic intent. It cheapens art by insinuating that the vision of the artists holds as much value as chance. By trying to correct our own mistakes, according to this teacher, we were cheating; we should instead placidly accept the luck of the draw, and work to integrate a slip of the marker or spilled paint or a graphite stain into the piece rather than fix it. Anything different would only be training ourselves to be too critical of our own work.
Of course this was an elementary art class, and the extent of our artistic vision more often than not was directly proportional to how much sugar we'd had that day. But I can't help but wonder why, over the years, I have never forgotten how annoyed I was at her attitude. I hate not having control of my own message, and I hate not being myself. I am not an accidental paint stain. That wasn't my choice. By removing my ability to fully control my own work, she was taking away what little power I had been afforded.
In the end, why is it that we create? Is art frivolous and meaningless, as it was in that art class, sticking glitter to glue lines in a dark room in the second story of a row house, just trying to get through the day? As I've so often heard suggested by cynical freshmen - is it masturbatory to focus so much of ourselves into something without use, and therefore without real, practical value?
But it's not just my own personality that goes into my work: it's the world I live in. My art reflects the culture that raised me, the places I've lived, the people I've loved. It's nuance and detail and minutiae and little tidbits I've absorbed over the years, a big katamari of everything I've experienced. So in some respect I'm not the sole author of any work of mine; the world and human culture is responsible too. Art is what we do when we're not just surviving; we either create it or appreciate it. It's part of what makes us human.
In some ways I suppose my teacher was trying to free us of the burden of taking art seriously, because of course we wouldn't make any money if we grew up to be artists. It doesn't matter if you make a mistake, dear. It's all right. Don't bother erasing, you've only got 10 minutes left. We were graded on how quietly we colored in the shapeless flowers and buildings we drew.
I admit this, although it's a little embarrassing: it really still bothers me. It bothers me that something I consider to be so incredibly vital to our humanity is treated with such careless disdain, like a messier form of naptime. At the tender age of 5-10 I wanted my art to matter. I wanted the final piece to be something I had perfected and honed with my own two hands, representative of me, and that its perfection would be noticed and remembered. I didn't want my life's work to be marred with slip-ups and nasty bits the teacher insisted were "just part of art". Ultimately I was contributing to the universe's unique cultural milieu, and it was power that I had, power to communicate who I was.
And that's why I snuck erasers into class.