Do you think you suck at writing?
Periodically when I work with a client, before we can really get going, first we have to talk about all the reasons they can’t write a book. Usually one of the reasons is that someone told them they suck at writing.
I wish I could say this story was less common. Whenever they tell me, I feel for them. Then recently I realized the same thing had happened to me. Not with writing (although I carry plenty of writing baggage, too), but with visual art.
High school, freshman year, I took a studio art class with some older kids. I dreaded it because 1. it was required and 2. I already knew I was “bad” at art.
Teachers had always winced at my drawings. I’d stick-figured my way well into fourth grade. I’d made do.
In the studio art class, the teacher would demonstrate a technique at the front of the class, and we would sit in our seats and do the thing he demonstrated.
He would walk around class, giving encouragement to the students whose work looked like his demo. Then there was me.
“What are you doing?” he would ask over my shoulder, trying to sound jocular. I don’t remember what I would say back. It wasn’t really the words we exchanged but his sighs of disappointment.
I never attempted to draw or paint or ceramicize or anything after that. Once in a while I sidled up to visual creativity. I made collages. I knitted. But I knew I was bad at art so what was the point in going farther?
I realize I’ve been carrying that around for a long time without really examining it.
The pandemic brought me closer to trying again. Touching paints for me felt almost literally like playing with fire. But it happened almost in spite of myself. I bought a painstakingly detailed paint-by-numbers set for my kids and when it turned out to require too much patience and concentration from them, I took over and painted all afternoon. A few weeks later I opened my kids watercolors and painted some abstract scenes.
I finally confronted the art class memory when I decided to try to adopt the a new frame on creativity and artists. The new frame: artists are MADE, not BORN. Or “discovered and recovered,” as Julia Cameron put it and I shared here on Instagram.
Once I started to try to believe that, I bumped right into freshman year art. And yadda yadda yadda…
I took another class 25 years later (online this time so I could pause and rewind as much as I needed to) and I painted this. You can see my painting (and read even more lessons I learned from it) here.