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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kulseth


My daughter has grown to love the arts. Having been an athlete, I tried to expose her to sports and she gave a few a try. In the end, she just gravitates toward art, music, and theater. I couldn’t be more proud.

I found myself worried at first, unsure how I might teach her most effectively about failure. Failure, after all, is our most valuable teacher and as an athlete, I grew to recognize and appreciate the lessons of failure my sport exposed me to on a regular basis. Even now, years from competitive participation, my recreational involvement continues to challenge me, presenting failure after success after failure again. The lessons thrive within me to this day, leaving me nearly unflappable at the prospect of failure at work; I dive headfirst into projects and figure it out, frequently to the amazement or pleasant surprise of a boss or coworker. But how would I ensure this invaluable opportunity and its subsequent lessons for my daughter in the arts? I have always been a recreational artist but never a performer. I had no idea.

In the last theater season, my daughter was disappointed that she did not win the playbill cover art contest. My initial sadness for her quickly changed to joy when it dawned on me that there are plenty of opportunities for lessons in failure through the arts; losing an art contest, artwork not developing as planned, a musical note out of reach, not getting the part in a play desired, or worst of all, forgetting your lines on stage. She submitted her artwork again for this season’s playbill cover and won, but not before confirming that she no longer cared (as much) if she won. Doing the art was the fun part, she said, which meant that one lesson in failure six months earlier was a glowing success.

For my part, my lack of experience in theater left me with no way to participate along with my child, like a parent coaching little league might. Finding the connection that might have a similar bonding opportunity was a challenge. Until recently.

Parent volunteers are a portion of my local community theater program. This season's production was Mary Poppins Jr., in which my daughter was a little chimney sweep, among other things, they needed a foggy 19th century London skyline from a rooftop at dusk. And so I painted it.

These canvases are taller than I, standing 8 feet high and 4 feet wide. It took four of them to create the stage backdrop needed. Over six weekends, I spent entire afternoons at the community center painting while my daughter rehearsed with the cast nearby. She’d visit me after her rehearsal ended so we could head home together. She even brought a few friends to see my work now and then. She seemed so proud of me that I realized this may be my version of coaching little league. Just different. And for an amateur artist, much more fun. Even my husband got in on the action by building a few set pieces.

Despite many painting errors and a few failures that I didn’t have time to correct in the painting, I have instead planted this experience in my daughter’s childhood memories forever. Which makes this quite the success after all. Art, like life, might be most perfect with all of the imperfections in tow.


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