Mistakes and Muses

Where do great ideas come from? Stories? Inventions? Dances? Paintings? Songs? Solutions to problems, even? 

You know that feeling, when you’re drawing, or dancing, or solving a problem, or building something, that you aren’t completely in charge of it? Perhaps you start doing something, but then it comes out different to how you had planned? Maybe sometimes, it’s almost as if you forgot yourself, in another world, and the creation just appears. 


Well, that’s called inspiration.  You get an idea and start creating with it and you lose yourself in what you’re doing. Then before you know it, you’ve made a whole new idea, or drawing, or story, or invention!


Sometimes we wonder about creativity and where it comes from. Well, back in the time of the ancient Greeks, there was a goddess called Mnemosyne. She was the goddess of memory, of common sense and of language. 


All the ancient Greeks loved Mnemosyne and celebrated her every day. She helped people to think, to express what they felt and thought. She was the goddess of thought and speech. The accent Greeks loved her and celebrated her in the theatre, in the concert hall and in the law courts. - places where people used their thoughts and words very carefully and powerfully.


When great thinkers, called philosophers, walked around asking big questions about existence, like  “what came first - the chicken or the egg?” and “when I am 20, or 20 or even 40, will I be the same person that I am now?”, they knew that Mnemosyne was with them, helping them use their minds and explore the world with language and wisdom. 


Now Mnemosyne was not alone - she had nine daughters and they were known as the Muses. And the Muses were famous for giving humans the next most important things in life after breathing and shelter and families. They gave them the arts and the sciences.  


The Muses were a team - like Teen Titans or Go Jetters. Each member of the team was great at their own special skill.  Thalia was fab at comedy, Clio was an ace at history, Terpsichore loved dancing, Euterpe inspired loved music and Urania adored science!


Just like us, ancient Greek children and adults used to get stuck for ideas, or feel that what they were drawing or making or writing just wasn’t working.  But they believed that their creativity didn’t have to come from inside themselves - they believed it came from the Muses, like a gift.  They believed it was the Muses who giving us “in-spir-ation”. And if I tell you that the word inspiration means “breathing into”, you’ll see that the ancient Greeks believed Muses breathed their special creative powers into us!


Who has ever heard a writer or film-maker or scientist or painter or poet or inventor say, “let me MUSE on that,” when they want to have a think? Guess who they’re calling on to in-spire them? The muses!  And who is hiding in the words MUSIC, MUSEUM and AMUSED? Yes - the muses! Music, Museums and being amused are all creative things!


Now, when we say in Story Circle, “no art is perfect” and our ideas or drawings or inventions or stories don’t go the way we planned, you can just remember the Muses. You can muse on things going “wrong”; you can be a-mused, and just think for a moment about what you might learn from what the muses have put in front of you. Because at first glance, it might look like a mistake - but is it actually a gift in disguise? 


I’m going to tell you about some “ruined” creations that have changed the world - because someone decided to MUSE on creations that went “wrong”.  


  • A world-changing, life-saving medicine called penicillin was only discovered by accident when Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming forgot to wash up in his laboratory! He left his dirty equipment for a few days and when he got back, SOMETHING MOULDY had killed off all the germs. Instead of getting grumpy, he MUSED, and decided to investigate. He grew some more of the mould - found that it killed lots of germs. He called it “mould juice”. And THAT has saved millions of lives!


  • Post-it notes are the result of someone making a not-very-sticky glue, and instead of getting annoyed, asking - MUSING -  “what can we use this for?”


  • Coca-Cola happened when a scientist who was trying to make a headache cure spilt fizzy water into his mixture. Instead of getting cross, they tasted it, MUSED, “what else could this be, even if it doesn’t cure headaches?”


  • And Play-Doh was supposed to be a wall-cleaner!


I will leave you with once very interesting piece of information. All over the world, artists deliberately put mistakes in their work. This is something that has been done for htougsansd and thousands of years. In Islamic art, it is because they believe only god is allowed to be perfect. In native American Navajo rugs, it would be to make sure the artist’s soul didn’t get trapped in the pattern of the rug. In Japan, they do it to remind us that there is great beauty in imperfection - and that beauty itself is - like art - an imperfect thing. 



Let’s Think!


1. Where do you think your creativity comes from?


2. Can creativity come from rushing? 


3. How do you feel when your creative plans go “wrong”? What can you do with things that go “wrong”?