Blog: Happy Meals and Problem Solving

Christine Alfery

Posted on June 09 2020

Blog: Happy Meals and Problem Solving

So often we want the solution to problems we face to be as simple as buying and eating a Happy Meal. We want the prize inside to make us smile and be happy. 

But life is not a Happy Meal. It is full of problems. Many spend their lives avoiding problems or seeking the path of least resistance.  They are hungry so they buy a Happy Meal rather than savoring the problem they are facing – savoring it like a glass of fine wine with an elegant dinner. For me, the process of solving a problem is more like fine dining than a Happy Meal. You have to enjoy the experience.

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This artwork was exactly that. It began as a Happy Meal. 

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Building a Dam - Changing the Natural Flow

It began easily and quickly as I turned a white clayboard surface into a colored surface with washes. I could not grasp or see anything in the work with color washes so I took the path of least resistance and I began to put in marks I had made before hoping something would happen. 

I had just begun working a new series which I titled “Nature vs Fabrication”. Turns out that was a mistake – giving a title to the series limited me – it was too confining.  As I worked on the painting, the ideas of the new series worked in my head. What the series was really about was control - the designed, versus freedom and art. Design is all about control art is not. 

At the end of the day I stood back and looked at the painting I had worked on all day. What I saw was something I had done before – nothing unique – and it certainly didn’t speak to what I was trying to say. So I covered it up with white paint.  

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I need to create - I need to be creative.  I wanted to linger over the work – I needed to dine over the idea. I walked away and turned the lights out in the studio.

The next morning while lingering in bed, out of nowhere titles began forming for my new series. There were so many of them I had to write them down so I could remember the ideas when I returned to that blank white clayboard again. I wanted to return to those ideas later and figure out how they would come to life.  I started thinking about the series, and the work, as being about problem solving.

When I walked into the studio with my cup of morning coffee the artworks I had been working on the day before were able to shout out to me – this is how I want to be finished. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. You might say I dined on it while drinking my coffee. 

There is a difference between dining and a Happy Meal. Dining is about taking the entire evening or in this case morning and enjoying the experience. Happy Meals are eaten within seconds and tossed in the garbage.

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Fine dining is savoring the process of problem solving. In our world of instant gratification we often take that wonderful experience away because we need a quick fix, a quick solution. You can see this exemplified in our educational system – we often teach students to look for the right answer, and don’t allow the unique individual problem solver to dine on the problem and test out different solutions to it. The answer is multiple choice and only one answer it correct.

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There aren’t many problem solver disciplines in our educational systems any more.  There are a few that remain: science, the arts, creative writing – but only sometimes as it depends on the teachers and the curriculum focus. For example math - once foundations like 1+1=2 are taught we don’t always teach students how to problem solve. Students who stay in education long enough to begin to question or think critically can eventually become problem solvers but there aren’t many. Not even in art.

Instead many of these disciplines offer the Happy Meal version – how to get the right answer and pass the test. School systems, even higher education, do not always have the patience for what it takes to allow any problem solving to happen. They rarely allow for fine dining. It seems the goal is to find the “right” answers, to get the end objective. This is the kind of thinking that results in people decorating their homes with something simple and decorative that matches their throw pillows.  

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Matchy-matchy wall décor is a Happy Meal. The artwork I presented above “Building a Dam – Changing the Natural Flow” was a problem solver. I learned from it, I grew from it, I dined on it. There was no quick solution to make it work. 

Some will look at my artwork and say – I love it but I don’t have any blue in my room. Reverse your thinking: get the blue original one of a kind painting that you love – one that solved problems – and if you really need to have things match in the room (which I highly recommend you don’t) match the room to the original painting not the other way around. Make your room a room to relax and take hours over an elegant wine – not a room where junk food wrappers litter the tabletop along with Happy Meal toys.

Let it sing that song. 

Let it become a part of you. 

Do not try and reduce it to something it isn’t. You will ruin it.

Do not let someone else protect it either – they will also ruin it. 

Don’t protect it, you will corrupt it.

Let it become that creativity within you. 

It is your creativity, let your heart sing, let your soul sing, this is you. 

Cherish it – do not give it away.

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