"If you hear a voice within you say, 'you cannot paint,'
then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."
Vincent Van Gogh
I've been taking a basic drawing class at my local college this summer. I've always wanted to be able to draw and have had a fear of drawing for too many years. I knew if I didn't confront my fear, it would continue to hold me back in my art making as well as other areas of my life. Do you notice that as well - that fear in one area of your life can affect other areas too and the longer you avoid facing it, the more firmly rooted resistance becomes? Well, I just didn't want to be held back any more and I really did want to learn to draw. So, I decided to take a class to learn some skills and technique as well as place myself in a structure of accountability.
My fear came from when I was young, early high school age and I wanted to take an art class. My mother commented that I couldn't draw. She probably didn't know it, but I was devastated. But being a quiet, rather non-communicative kid with little-to-no self-awareness, I accepted the comment and it became a part of the story of who I thought I was. Fast forward a few years when I began to paint and I began to feel the urge to draw, I ignored it saying to myself, 'I can't draw' (never mind the fact that my notes in school and college were covered in doodles and sketches). This is how our brains work, they stick with the story you're telling yourself no matter what the evidence until you begin to question what you believe to be true. Finally, the desire became so strong and I noticed that the resistance to drawing was holding me back (read: causing frustration and pain). I firmly believe in questioning your beliefs and testing things out to find your truth. I have also found a great tool in making a change to your story, if your mind is resisting the change, and that is the Experiment. It is quite helpful to say to yourself, "I'm just going to try this and if it doesn't work at least I will know for sure." For some reason, I find that my mind quiets down, affectively saying, "OK, go ahead and play for a little while, let me know when you want to be serious again and we'll get back to work" So, this is what I did. I said, I'm just going to take a drawing class and see what happens. Maybe I'll like it and maybe I won't but at least I'll finally know.
Guess what? I loved it! The voice that played on repeat, "you can't draw, you can't draw..." didn't last long. It reminded me of the Van Gogh quote above. [Van Gogh is my muse and that quote I take as his personal advice to me.] It isn't about being able to suddenly draw well (as you see in the pictures. My drawings are not excellent drawings, nor was I trying to create excellent drawings. Most of the class, I didn't even have time to create an excellent drawing. But they are a good start to my drawing practice and they are proof, if to no one but myself, that I have gained a few basic skills and techniques to being able to draw. And, as Steve Martin said,
"just stick with this, just keep playing, and one day you'll have been playing for 40 years, and at this point, you'll know how to play."
His comment is about more than discipline. It's about consistency, it's about just showing up to do the work, it's about process. And it didn't take Steve 40 years to know how to play. If you've ever seen him play in person like I have, you know that he plays excellent blue grass as well as giving a great show! The reason I'm sharing this, as well some of my drawings, is to share my process. As an arts educator, I've heard way too many, "I can't sing...I can't draw...I can't paint..." or the ultimate lie, "I'm not creative." It's important to be able to practice without expectation and to see improvement in your work. When I was playing and performing the clarinet and when I taught music, there was no waiting 20 years until everyone was good enough to perform a concert. We practiced music we were developmentally ready for and then we performed it. In music, it is as important to learn how to perform, how to be seen as it is to develop good technique with your instrument and learn how to play well musically. The same is true of dance. When my daughter was learning ballet, jazz and hip hop, we went to many recitals and delighted in her progress as well as that of her fellow dancers. So, it is also true of visual arts as well even if it has historically been treated differently. I think it's important, (although admittedly extremely vulnerable just as it is in the other arts), to experiment and try new things, to take creative risk and to share your process and progress. Hopefully in sharing my process and progress, you will be encouraged to embark upon your own creative process, whatever the medium. You will have the confidence to begin wherever you are currently, knowing that if you simply keep showing up to practice, you will eventually be able to be competent.