The Art of Cutting Corners

When I was in 7th grade, my art teacher gave our class an assignment for an upcoming art contest for some world peace thing. We had to create these “world peace posters”, with very specific instructions on what had to be included in the poster, using watercolor pencils. I was uninterested in the contest, but this project was a part of my grade as well, and so I began to think about how I would include all the elements necessary in the assignment on this poster. I remember needing to include a dove, a key, and the Earth.
Now, I had never attempted to draw the Earth before; there were too many squiggles and lines that had to be perfect, and watercolor pencil doesn’t allow for as many mistakes as I was used to. So I was concerned–until I came up with a genius idea.
Just paint Earth spinning.
I didn’t know if that would fly; but time was limited, and I wasn’t about to attempt to draw Earth any other way. So I depicted the Earth as if it were spinning on a giant finger.
The other posters were gorgeous. Their depictions of the Earth were flawless–but so was my idea; and creativity won out over artistry. My teacher loved my work; only one piece, out of the whole school, could be entered, and she decided to enter my artwork into this contest. This contest I wasn’t committed to; with a painting of the Earth as a circle with green, blue, brown and white sweeping lines across it to create the image of it spinning.

Now, I don’t share this to brag; this was simply the type of child I was. It wasn’t that I always wanted the easy way out, but rather that I knew my abilities and was true to them. And although many would argue that my greatest work was in art, or math, or music; in all of these, I fall short. I know many who far exceed my abilities, and that is why I have not fully pursued these in college. Perhaps the greatest ability that I have is what I like to call “creative problem-solving”. In other words, I solve problems by thinking outside the box. I don’t just follow the well-paved road of the solution to a problem. Sometimes there are multiple solutions. Sometimes there is another path that leads to the same solution.

In high school, this kind of thinking caused problems. The fact is, I have spent too much time outside of the box that I have a hard time thinking inside it. I don’t know how to do things the normal way, even if it is the easier way. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I cannot conform to the tried and tested way of accomplishing things, because my brain doesn’t work that way. Other times, I find there are better, more efficient ways of solving things.
When I was taking math classes, we learned about proofs and derivatives and a lot of things that I can’t remember anymore. On tests, teachers would ask us to solve a problem a specific way. I would solve the problem a different way, but end up with the same solution. Although the work and solution were correct, because it wasn’t done the way my teachers wanted, I was docked points. These missed points didn’t affect my overall grade, but they did affect the way I saw problem-solving; you don’t want to cut corners when you’re learning math.

So why did my outside-of-the-box attitude elicit such different responses? My art teacher was fawning over my work, so what happened? When is it alright, when is it good, to practice expanding the mind, to truly learn and create instead of merely following and obeying?
Maybe what I was missing was knowing the difference between dedicated practice-time and creativity-practice time. In other words, there are times designated to practice what you have already been taught, and then there are times when creativity is the ultimate goal; and although they may have a specific idea in mind of what you should be doing, another point of view is accepted.

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