If you are privy to kids animated films you will likely remember a priceless scene from the all-star penguin film, Happy Feet. While tap dancing atop a mountain of snow, a group of penguins gasp when their friend accidentally slips off the peak and begins a wild roller coaster-like ride down the side of the mountain, luge-style. In a poignant moment of hilarity, Robin William's penguin character looks enviously down the mountain and utters, "Man, this guy is so accidentally cool!" and the whole lot of them jump off the mountain to join the fun.
As it turns out, being accidental is cool. It's so cool, in fact, that I chose to embrace the word for my business.
Accidental Art Project earned it's name many years ago while sharing my business vision with a marketing executive friend of mine, Dori Clark, author of Reinventing You. At the time, I was teaching art and movement at an independent elementary school in Cambridge, MA. When I wasn't teaching, I was up late developing ideas for my then un-named art-education company. I explained to Dori that of all the professions I ever imagined myself pursuing, neither artist nor educator ever made the list.
As a child I spent many summer afternoons painting in my family’s mudroom or piecing together objects found in my backyard. I loved creative endeavors, but I definitely didn’t grow up crafting abstract sculptures or fantasizing about teaching others. My childhood artwork, though precious to my mother, didn’t even qualify for an endearing greeting card.
Yet, through a series of college internships and unique career development opportunities, I found myself in the accidentally cool position of being the Arts Coordinator for a prominent afterschool program. The students were passionate about projects of all mediums. Intrigued by the possibility of doing something novel with the art program, I began to bring them new ways of creating that were as unconventional as they were educational. Day school teachers began asking me to share my lesson plans and inquiring as to how they could weave more art into their central subjects. Despite my lack of formal training, I was clearly doing something right. My art table was packed!
"Wow, that is amazing. I mean, you're kind of like the Accidental Art Teacher!", Dori exclaimed.
And there you have it. The name stuck. I was the accidental art teacher, and it wasn't a bad thing at all. In many ways the name is ironic as everything I have visioned and created has been done with great intention. Yet there is a magic to accidentalness- a vulnerability in the word- that offers a key insight into the nature of the creative process:
No matter how much we plan or strategize anything, there are always variables that are subject to the accidental and magical nature of life.
Oftentimes our lack of formal knowledge or training in a specific area can be a major advantage. When you don’t know what to do, you’re likely to invent a way for doing whatever task is at hand- especially if you’re getting paid to do it. This is the creative process at it's best.
My business is called Accidental Art Project to speak to more than just the non-traditional direction in which my career went. The title is also designed to connect with every teacher or parent who wants to enhance his or her curriculum with art, but feels too limited by a lack of artistic training or creative thinking. If you feel burned out with your curriculum, uninspired by your classroom projects or drained creatively, these lesson plans are for you. Teachers who are exceptionally imaginative will also find tools here to take their creativity to the next level.
What's your accidental "edge"? How can you leverage your free-thinking mind to generate something novel to you? No matter what your vocation- teacher, parent, scientist, landscaper, musician or barista- start by adding an ounce of accidental coolness to your planning and strategizing of an idea. Then, allow space for the unknown to reveal itself.