Early in my career as a Chinese teacher, I decided to incorporate Chinese ink painting as a teaching device, since ink painting is an important component of Chinese art and culture.
This past summer, I spent time studying this style of art, despite it being very intimidating to me. I never tried this free style of drawing before, and I was totally out of my comfort zone. Being a perfectionist, I struggled with the idea that it’s okay not to do things perfectly when trying something new. Throughout this process, I reminded myself to enjoy the moment instead of thinking about what I needed to present later. I remembered that my art teacher once told me that drawings are not meant to be like photographs, and that adding “lively” touches can make drawings attractive. The more relaxed I became, the better I did. After practicing this free style approach, I was finally ready to try Chinese ink wash painting for the first time. After a few attempts, I began to realize the philosophy behind my art teacher’s advice—capture the “spirit” or “essence,” instead of direct imitation.
Ink wash painting was another step outside my comfort zone. I initially used rice paper, but that is very easy to mess up because, once a stroke is painted, it cannot be changed or erased. I was so afraid of messing up any strokes. Overcoming this difficulty may require years of training in order to master the brush movement and ink flow. Fortunately, my art teacher was there to encourage me—“it’s okay to mess up!” This is exactly what I tell my own students—“it’s okay to make mistakes.”
From my art journey, I learned so much that I can apply to my teaching, including how important it is “to try.” I encourage students to overcome the mental block of trying something new, such as the Chinese language, because they should eventually realize that learning a new language is not as difficult as they initially thought. I also learned how mistakes can create confidence from improvements and experience. It is now clear to me that the process of making mistakes can be as charming as the end results.
Perhaps the lessons I learn from my art journey will enable me to pay it forward to my students, beginning with showcasing the confidence and courage to make mistakes without fear, as well as inspiring a passion for lifelong learning.