“I’m not a good artist.”
“My drawing looks terrible.”
“I can’t even draw a straight line to save my life.”
“His drawing is so much better than mine.”
“Teacher Jen, you make it look so easy, but I’m just no good.”
Sound familiar? These are insecurities in art that I hear every few days or so in my lessons. What happens to an individual from that confident kindergartner who walks around with their favorite color crayon, giving mom the latest masterpiece to plaster to the fridge, to when they become a shy teenager hiding beautifully rendered drawings in amongst math problems and history essays?
Between stick figures drawn joyfully by the young child, and hidden doodles of teens and adult office workers scrambling for a second of artistic release, somewhere along the road, we get broken.
Society provides a mold in which we are expected to fit into, and people are categorized on what their abilities seem to be.
Comparisons are drawn, and before you know it, that sweet budding artist’s confidence sails away like a balloon escaping, climbing high into the sky with the child watching helplessly below. There is a sense of loss for one who enjoyed the art process, when they come to the “false realization” that they are in fact, “not artist material.”
How do I know this if I am an artist, you ask? Because it happened to me.
Her name was Elizabeth. My! Was she an artist! Only in fourth grade, her proportions were already perfected; her animals had life in their eyes; and shading? Well, she had it down! Her choice of colors was perfectly added to her pieces as if it were the easiest thing in the world for her.
All the kids in our class had officially decided that Elizabeth was THE artist. I absolutely loved art, but hadn’t had the opportunity to take private classes like Elizabeth. I remember a couple kids told me, “Jenny, Elizabeth is the artist. Now, she CAN draw.” One took it a step further and jeered, “Why do you even try?”
And that was it. I stopped drawing at school. I took up flute and joined the band. Band was at the same time as our weekly art class, so even though I looked forward to my art time each week, I stopped going, and threw myself into learning the flute because after all, Elizabeth was THE artist, and I “just” liked to draw. My talent for flute increased, and my grade for art class slipped from an A to a D, as I had so many incomplete art assignments that I did not have the motivation to finish.
I remember the project about five months later that changed me forever. It was a math lesson on symmetry but with an art twist to it! Our teacher had us cut out an animal from a National Geographic. The instructions were to cut down the middle of its face and glue on half of the face to drawing paper. Then we were to draw and match the other side to the best likeness we could create. I loved tigers, so I picked a beautiful one with amber eyes.
Although I had shut off art for five months, something in me clicked and for 30 minutes I didn’t care about my insecurities of not being an artist anymore. I worked hard. The whole classroom faded away and it was just my masterpiece and me. The fourth grade recess bell rang and all the kids except me ran out the door. I asked my teacher if I could stay to finish my tiger. I remember seeing my teacher smile as she saw my tiger. “Jenny the Artist” was back – for good. I fought the “false realization” of not being an artist. When class came in that day, I remember the kids gathered around my desk, murmuring, “Hey Jenny’s tiger is almost as good as Elizabeth’s drawing!” That was good enough for me. I could deal with “almost as good.”
Fast forward to today, where I stand now in the teacher’s spot. A few weeks ago, I was teaching one of my favorite classes to teach, “Collage Kids Club.” It was like clockwork. 1,2, then 3 students in a row blurted out their lies of insecurity. “I’m no good.”
“Wow! So and so’s art is so much better than mine.”
And lastly, “I’m a bad drawer.”
“Pencils down!” I commanded. “Here at Blue Plume Studio, we are all good artists. We ALL have a gift. We are all talented.”
“Yeah, but Teacher Jen, I keep messing up,” one student argued.
I responded, “ In art, it’s all about the process of creating something great, something meaningful to express yourself. The mess-ups are sometimes the best part because that is where the learning happens. If we don’t mess up sometimes, then how do we learn? I don’t call them mess-ups either. I like to call it editing my art. If there is something I need to change, I edit it, until it is how I like it to stay.”
At this point, I glanced at my hand-painted sign with one of my favorite Picasso quotes on it. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
“How many of you have heard of Picasso?” I inquired. Several students raised their hands. I gave a quick overview of the great artist, Picasso, and then asked, “How many of you think I am a good artist?”
With that, all the kids raised their hands.
“What if I told you Picasso was better, much better? After all, he was one of the founders of modern cubism, and wow! You should see his bronze sculptures!
In fact, he was so good I might as well quit now, because I’m never going to be as good as him. What do you guys think, should I quit art?” I asked my class.
“No Teacher Jen! You can’t quit! We NEED you! You teach us how to do art!” the students cried.
“But Picasso was better, doesn’t that make me ‘no good’?” I inquired.
“No Teacher Jen! You are good too! You are one of the bestest artists we know!” they argued back.
“Right there!” I stated. “No one is better or worse. Art is a process, a journey that we are on similar to life. If one person appears farther along, we don’t give up, but instead press on, keep going on our journey. Art is expression, it is a way we communicate.” I held up one of the pieces that one of the students had deemed “no good.”
“What is this?” I questioned.
“A polar bear!’ the class replied.
“A very creative polar bear, because we know exactly what he is drawing! Isn’t it amazing we don’t have to write words below or tell anything about the picture? The art speaks for itself and this is the amazing thing about each of us being an artist! We are able to have a whole new language to communicate what we feel, what we want to express and we take the viewer on a journey through our art. Amazing isn’t it?”
The class all sat for a moment taking it all in. One student turned to another and said, “you are a good artist and I am too!”
I felt joy. I had done my job well today, and helped six sweet little artists believe that once again, they were indeed artists and worth sharing their art with the world.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
The piece below was created by Dan, my husband, who has declared before, he in fact, is not an artist. Beautiful inspirations like this can happen when you allow yourself to relax, and let go of those insecurities of “not being an artist.” This is what happens when you allow yourself to “JUST BE!”
I am so proud of him for creating this piece this weekend! Love you Dan!