Most often when I tell someone I am an artist, I hear something like, “How wonderful! I wish I could draw, but…” and then a string of statements about how they would LOVE to be able to draw but can’t even draw a stick figure, how someone else in the family is the artist, their 5th grade art teacher really embarrassed them and they’ll never do that again, etc.
I taught high school art, and some of these statements were already in my students’ 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/racquet/golf club, rolled a ball down the alley?” Most people have a good laugh remembering those early attempts to learn something new.
My proposal is that art is like a sport. Some people are more gifted initially and may learn faster than others, true. But even Babe Ruth had to learn how to hold that bat the first time.
How artists have somehow been stuck into a category where they must produce Rembrandts and Van Gogh’s the first time they hold a pencil or paintbrush is a mystery to me…but that idea is out there in a big way.
Handling the tools of art is learned through practice, often with the guidance and support of a good teacher. Then, lots of practice, hopefully focused, messy, and fun. A good teacher gives you clear instruction, step by step, and plenty of time and space to play with what you are learning. When you’re ready, they are there to offer pointers about how you might do something better.
With time and good support, every person can find their own voice. An atmosphere of adventure, exploration, and fun…a safety zone for creativity…allows anyone with the interest to learn and grow, and keep getting closer to creating the masterpieces they may see or sense in their creative heart.
When I was five, I collected a series of rocks, laid them all out, and proceeded to mix a variety of “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.
I came back later, and was stunned to see that all my rocks looked the same dull 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.
What does that have to do with believing that you can learn an art form, and create beautiful works of art?
I never gave up. I have always had the urge to make something beautiful. I have had some equally disastrous results, but--I have also made some drawings and paintings that fulfill my inner vision and more. And I keep on going.
It seems harder as we become “adults” to realize that yes, we still have LOADS of things that we don’t yet know how to do…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 have worked with has had their doubts, and not wanted to feel embarrassed. But they have also each had their own amazing, personal way of seeing, drawing, and painting, and a deep yearning to do so.
Try listening to that small voice inside asking to do something new…watercolors, pottery, drawing, collage…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…I am reminded of the value of play, of enjoying the practice and the process as well as aiming as high as possible for results.
Read about the best of them…the masters were all learning, enthralled with their personal adventure of creating.
Here’s to Art, straight from the heart.