Most often when I tell someone I am an artist, I hear something like, “How wonderful! I wish I could draw, but…” and then they follow it with a statement like how they would LOVE to be able to draw but can’t even draw a stick figure, or that someone else in the family is the artist, or that their 5th grade art teacher really embarrassed them and they’ll never try it again, etc.
I taught high school art, and some of these statements were already in my kids’ minds. My response was and is, “Have you ever learned to play a sport? Baseball, tennis, bowling, whatever…? How’d you do the first time you threw the ball, swung the bat, tried to hit the ball over the net?” Most of them have a good laugh remembering those early attempts at learning something new.
My philosophy is that art is like a sport. True, some people are more gifted initially and may learn faster than others, but even Babe Ruth had to learn how to hold that bat his very first time.
The idea that artists must produce Rembrandts and Van Gogh’s the first time they hold a pencil or paintbrush is a mystery to me…but that preconception is out there, and in a big way!
The tools of art are learned, as well as the skills to handle them. Then, you practice, hopefully with the guidance of a good teacher who gives you plenty of time and space to play with what you are learning, as well as pointers about how you might do something better. With time and good support, every person can find their own voice.
When I was five, I collected a series of rocks, laid them all out, and proceeded to mix a variety of brown “colors” with dirt and water. Who knows how a child’s eyes really see…mine were seeing the most magically beautiful colors, with which I carefully painted my rocks, then laid them in the sun to dry.
When I came back later, I was stunned to see that all my rocks looked the same dull grayish brown. I put my fantastic project away, never showing it to anyone. In fact, I have only remembered this little adventure in the last couple of years.
How does that relate to believing that you can learn to be an artist?
Well for one thing, I never gave up. I have always had the urge to make something beautiful, and despite some very disastrous results, I have also made some drawings and paintings that fulfilled my inner vision and more. I keep on going, and that makes a huge difference.
It’s hard as “adults” to realize that yes, we may still have LOADS of things to learn about art…but I see that as good news! Those five year olds can really show us how to dive in, have fun, make a mess, and learn how to create beauty out of it.
Every student I worked with had doubts, often from a fear of embarrassment. But each one also had his or her own amazing, personal way of seeing, drawing, and painting.
Try listening to that small voice inside asking to do something new…whether it be watercolors, pottery, whatever. Step past that little, “I can’t” …and give yourself the experience of creating something with your own hands, eyes, and heart. No one else in this world could possibly create what you make, simply because you did it yourself.
For those of us who have already said, “Yes,” and are working away at our art…Remember the value of play, of enjoying the practice of art, and the process, rather than just aiming for the highest possible results.
Here’s to art.
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