Hi, welcome to String Revolution. I'm Léan, I live in Dublin with my husband and two little boys, and I am a dangerous stringy subversive.
My job is to radiate my creative truth, and to help you radiate yours. I create, without exception, every day. I write here when I have something to say.

(learn more about me).

Macaroni Necklace!

Necklace (by oncefound on Etsy)

I was chatting to an online friend recently about creativity and blocks, and something she said made a little light go on in my brain.

“I looked at my writing,” says she to me, “the way I looked at a pre-schooler’s macaroni necklace, something that no one would ever pay me for…”

A pre-schooler’s macaroni necklace.

Yes! This perfectly encapsulates one of the big tangles I have in my personal string revolution (by which I mean the idea of building a living around this stuff, oh yes – watch me shrink it down and tuck it safely between parentheses). I am intensely twitchy about standing up and saying, “Hey, I made this, and I think it’s good.”

Objectively, I can see that the things I make are at least as competently produced and finished as plenty of the stuff that’s out in the world for sale. But somehow, to go from there to believing that I could plausibly sell my work … like, for money … seems like a mighty, groin-straining kind of leap.

Like the woman said. Macaroni necklace.

“Thank you for that,” I said to her. “I’ll go away and chew on it now. (Chewing on raw, grubby macaroni, yes. Let’s hope the paint the pre-schooler used is non-toxic.)”

The photo above is of a necklace that is not even slightly macaroni. It was made for me by another incredibly talented friend, who goes by the name of oncefound on Etsy. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m in love with the way it sets symmetry aside in favour of balance. It gives me the serious warmfuzzies.

So what’s my point?

Well, partly, I’m writing this post in order to come clean about my (shameful! preposterous! unfounded!) belief that some of my work is actually pretty good. In certain fields (mainly the stringier ones), I have sufficient expertise at this point that I am no longer making macaroni necklaces.

But then, I’m also thinking about how so many adult artists are trying to recapture the freedom of a child. They aim to integrate their adult experience and skills with the immediacy and confidence of a child’s creative energy. And in that context, the macaroni necklace takes on a new dimension.

Children learn by doing: they don’t learn how to make a necklace before they make a necklace. The Oyster writes books and puts on pantomimes. The Feaster builds railway networks and enacts dramatic tableaux with anthropomorphised trains.

I am learning so much from my children – about process, about creative risk. I hope that I am slowly internalising what I am trying to model for them: that mistakes are an opportunity to learn, that failure is a milestone, not a thousand-foot drop.

(Note for the skeptical: I am carefully distinguishing, here, between the attitude that says “failure doesn’t exist; everything you do is a success”, which I think is pretty sad and unrealistic, and the one that says “failure to meet a goal does not imply anything bad about you as a person”, which is what I’m trying to reinforce.)

It seems to me that as babies, they understood these propositions instinctively. Perhaps as they grow older, they’ll adopt the more prevalent attitude of our culture (mistakes are bad, mm’kay?), and start judging their macaroni necklaces by harsher criteria. And perhaps, later still, they will work to regain the artistic freedom of their childhood.

(Or, you know, they could become alienated, emotionally frozen, right-wing stockbrokers and keep me in my old age.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a huge (a vast! a gargantuan!) fan of children’s art. I love it. I honour it. I respect it. And actually, if examples I liked were available for sale, and I had money to spare, I’d probably buy it.

Which puts a different slant on the matter altogether.

7 comments to Macaroni Necklace!

  • In college, I took a bronze casting class. My brother, who was the family artist, took a look at my cast tree and said, “I could S**t a better tree than that.”

    I never looked at that tree the same way after that.

    I mean, it wasn’t a perfect tree, but for my first tree, it wasn’t that bad.

    I’ve kept a turtle I made in that class, but I never went back to sculpture and that’s my loss.

    We talk about the creative process, my children and I. My younger son, especially, likes to create. We talk about what we learn as we create, and what we enjoy as we create. I really want him to value the joy of creating as much as whatever “product” comes out of it. I think that happens naturally for him.

    And so I am trying to learn that too. I’m trying to not be such a perfectionist and to enjoy my wabi sabi.

  • Woah.

    Lean, what you’ve articulated here is SO important and yet so easy for us to forget. To grow and improve and develop in our creative skills, we have to experiment and practice and produce shitty trees (waving at Bridget). And yet, we feel bad when we see that. Kids don’t. They say, “Hey, mummy, look at this beeyootiful macaroni necklace I made for you! Will you wear it to work tomorrow?” And then they go on to greater things.

    Was is Julia Cameron who said “Judging our initial artistic efforts is artist abuse”?

    On the pinboard in my studio is a gold painted macaroni necklace my nephew gave me when he started school. It’s just taken on a whole new significance for me.

  • leannich

    @Bridget: I’m kind of reeling at what your brother said to you. How incredibly insensitive, not to say arrogant! Also, I suspect, strictly inaccurate, unless his rectal sphincter is truly unique…

    @Fi: Judgement is such a problematic area when it comes to creativity, isn’t it? I think that Julia Cameron quote is great. (Though maybe that’s because I’m a little bit obsessed with working through my personal relationship with judgement at the moment.) Complicated stuff. But I love that you have an actual macaroni necklace in your studio! That rocks.

  • I’ve been mulling over this macaroni necklace thing. I’m not allowed to make macaroni necklaces, me, and I should probably get over that…

    But it’s tough when the whole damn family are artistic geniuses, sometimes. Maybe I’ll just stick with bread, not that I can make money out of that, either. But my bread is often awesome and always good.

  • leannich

    @Ailbhe: If it would help at all, I could give you official written permission to make macaroni necklaces 🙂 Macaroni necklaces are important!

  • Speaking of s**tting out art, I recently read a book where one species of intelligent beings did exactly that. They had a separate digestive system than the food one, but they ate paste and colourberries and excreted sculpture. It’s Perdido Street Station.

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