Pink Frogs: Melanie Rothschild on Creative Expression

In her past blog posts, Embracing Spilled Paint and Embracing Spilled Paint, Part II, Melanie Rothschild champions the idea of welcoming mistakes in the art studio. Now she explores the purpose and importance of art education, and their potential threat to the creative expression and artistic freedom of your inner artist.

A guest post by Melanie Rothschild

One interesting thing about life is that you never know when out of nowhere something is going to happen which will imbed itself in your gut.

Several years ago I was doing an art show and a woman came over to me asking if I could recommend an art class for her young daughter. Apparently the girl was very excited about taking an art class outside of school but after giving it a try, things took an unexpected turn. The girl had done a painting with a pink frog about which she was quite proud, at least until the teacher explained to her that it was not acceptable.










The reasoning was straightforward: frogs are green, not pink. Therefore all would be well if the child would follow the teacher’s simple directions and change the coloration of her small, misguided reptile.

The young artist was devastated. She’d had a plan. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t being allowed to follow through with her vision. She’d been looking forward to an art class, a place where she’d be able to “live out loud” as her inner artist self and this was not what she’d been expecting, not in the least.

The chilling part for me wasn’t really about this little girl; she was lucky to have a mother with clarity of thought to see the potential damage which lie ahead and take pains to redirect her child from this “spiritually toxic” situation. I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the kids with parents who would see fit to defer to such a teacher, or parents who would even admonish a child for this sort of irreverent behavior.

It made me think about why people send their kids to art classes, or why for that matter, any of us takes art classes.

Certainly there’s a lot to be learned: drawing, shading, perspective, cross-hatching, sculpting, carving, molding and endless more wonderful skills which can develop lifelong tools for artists. But right in the center of the artist’s essential tool kit is one tool, arguably the most essential of all which is easily forgotten in the dedication to attain perfection: becoming adept with the ecstasy of creating unruliness. . . and, understanding the profundity of that knack. It’s the sweet spot . . . the intersection of art, imagination, new ideas and progress. Possibly this kind of understanding is the most important reason for even doing art, at all. Maybe it’s even the reason that art exists.

From a parent’s point of view, isn’t art the place where you want your kid to be bold and take chances? When you consider all the other kinds of risky behaviors out there, I think the art class is a swell place for adventure.

I meet so many adults who talk about how much they wish they could do art but are rotten artists. Many of them say they actually have proof that they have no talent and often recount stories about some experience where they were told by a teacher or some authority figure that their work was not acceptable. Those feelings were internalized and poof . . . they’ve long ago bought into accepting someone else’s judgment and it has shut them down for years, maybe decades, or even forever. It all made me think . . . an art class can be a dangerous place.

Be sure to check out Rice’s Podcast with Melanie Rothschild about her so- called “mistakes.”

Melanie Rothschild is a self-taught artist whose elaborate interior accessories have been sold in stores throughout the United States including Neiman-Marcus, the shops at the Smithsonian Institution, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and hundreds of others for almost two decades. Her work is shown in fine art galleries and has been licensed to Target. She considers moxie, an irreverent nature, and a respect for mistake-making to be the tools of her trade. Melanie has a master’s degree in the Study of Creativity and an undergrad degree in Anthropology. She is from and lives in Los Angeles.

Click here to see more of Melanie’s artwork and a short preview of her documentary, MISTAKE.

You might also enjoy:

The Open Window: First Aid for Creative Injury



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3 Responses to Pink Frogs: Melanie Rothschild on Creative Expression

  1. suzyt says:

    LOVE THIS!!! this woman is so right on and sensitive and enlightened. I wish all my children’s teachers could read this and remember the power they hold in their hands when they guide children to that which is acceptable and unacceptable…especially in terms of personal expression…are we trying to raise clones or thinkers?!

  2. As a young woman trying to find my voice, I realized that art really was what I needed, who I was. I still had the thought embedded that I had to be “educated” in the arts in order to be an artist, however. So I went to college and my major was illustration and advertising graphic design. Not long into into it however I realized I was much more interested in the fine arts and would longingly watch those students go into their rooms to study the much more “fun” elements of art, expression and creativity that was THEIRS and not what a company wanted.
    I finally broke free of the commercial side of things and delved head first into the fine art end of it, to me, the more creative side of it. And I delighted in breaking all the rules. I did finally realized that indeed, my work was so much more vibrant, free and “me” when I stepped outside the lines and colored all over the place in that space.

    Fast forward to teaching after school art classes (the school just didn’t have the budget for art, ugh) and I was stunned at what had been happening to these poor little guys. From kindergarden to 6th grade these poor kids were absolutely on the brink of ruin with the “color inside the lines with the right color” mentality. So I came up with a plan. Most of the parents were intrigued and tickled and actually participated but some of them were horrified. I set the curriculum as “If Picasso created a Halloween card, what would it look like?” (It was Halloween of course)

    I talked about Picasso, who he was, the classically trained artist who frankly got sick and tired of it all and started playing for a change. Showed his earlier works as a child, as a young man and then into his abstracts. The parents were stunned, the kids delighted. It really was a success over all but their were still the stuffy parents who just couldn’t get it. They wanted to hire me as a private instructor but I had to lay it down that I won’t teach that way, I will teach the create end first. They did not like that, so it never did go through. I did however, over the years hear many good things about what I did, that I was the best they had ever seen and that no one who came behind me even touched the spark in the kids.

    One of these days, if I can pull myself together enough (I now also have a microfarm) I would like to put together some healing art classes with only gentle suggestions on what makes a painting pop, what makes it sing (the general design and color placement fun stuff as opposed to mud, you all know what I mean 🙂 But outside that… just let the creativity flow. For both kids AND adults.

  3. Oh…and please ignore the typos, the html mess etc etc I have up there 🙂