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September 2013

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Kid Art

Trusting yourself--and the importance of creativity


This is something that rattles around in my brain from time to time, and although I'm not given to rants on LJ, this comes close. 

Because of a number of factors, we tend to discount art--our society values monetary success over spiritual--or over satisfaction and happiness as far as that goes! (and no, money really can't buy happiness.  I don't care what they say!), but also because we're replaying "old tapes," as we used to call them. 

By that I mean the Inner Critic playing back negative things our mothers, fathers, aunts, teachers, peers, may have said to us, as far back as early childhood: "You'll never be an artist.  Quit wasting time.  Don't be lazy.  Don't be such a dreamer. Your BROTHER is a success, and you want to be an ARTIST? Do something constructive.  That's not very good. Get a REAL job." or some variation on that theme. 

That little voice that saps the joy out of creativity--you know the one. Most of us creative types have heard it, in one form or another.  And we still let it, unless we take charge and call a halt to it!

It breaks my heart to hear such stories from a student!  I want to reach back through the years and SMACK whoever first planted that negative seed.  I have yet to figure out what the point is in negative criticism, whether of a child or an adult, a spouse, or a peer.  What makes people want to rain on a creative parade?  Does it make them feel superior?  Are they threatened?  Are they jealous or insecure? Does art make them uncomfortable if they can't do it? 

What IS it with that?

I think in the case of parents, it's mostly a fear that you may not be able to support yourself.  That "starviing artist" thing is ingrained in our consciousness--in the garret rather than the kitchen. 

And artists have been stereotyped for generations...we're kooky, impractical, loose-living, hard-drinking dreamers, "no wonder you can't make it in the Real World."

Well, BS.  That stereotype is fact in a few cases, but I know many, many positive, intelligent, efficient, skilled artists who are taking care of themselves just fine, thank you.  They--WE--don't need to play to the stereotype.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard some variation on the above theme from my students.  I hate hearing "I don't want to waste watercolor, so I buy cheap paints" (which fight them, of course!)  It bothers me when people think creativity equals selfishness.  I don't like it when someone refers to what they are doing as wasting paper, or time.  It's like fingernails on a blackboard to me!

Did you learn something, whether you like the finished results or not?  Did you enjoy the process?  Was it a challenge?  Did you truly LOOK at what you're drawing, slow down and actually pay attention?  Were you fully present during the time you were sketching or drawing or painting?  Were you absorbed in the doing?  Were you calmer, or perhaps energized?  Was your life enriched?  Did you feel a sense of respect or empathy or love for your subject? Did you find beauty in unexpected places, whether or not you could capture it to your satisfaction?  (Guess what?  I can't either.  So what??)

And this is a waste...HOW?

Not to mention the fact that I am fully convinced that creativity is something we share with the Maker of all things--a gift in the truest sense of the word.  Whether you perceive that as God, or light, or even the Big Bang or evolution, creativity is something we have in common with the Universe, and with one another.  It is truly human.  We can see that in the caves at Lascaux, or the work of the early Celts, or the Anasazi, or the ancient South Americans who built those amazing pyramids.  People make beauty.  It's one of our best ways to communicate, and to celebrate, and to record.

A waste?  I don't think so.

Was I happy with the sketch above?  No.  The paper fought me, the pocket-brush fought me, and it was better before I added color.  But I noticed what was around me, I paid attention, I enjoyed the time in the attempt.  It was time well spent, and the moments I might otherwise have been bored waiting have become memorable to me.  So I share even those things that aren't completely pleasing to me.  Nobody's perfect, and I'm not Michaelangelo.  Bet HE had his off days, too!

And yes, of course I've had my own moments of insecurity.  The first time I took work over to the gallery I stayed with, happily, for years (until they closed almost 25 years ago), I carried in my portfolio, plopped it down and said "Well, here's my junk."

The gallery owner crawled ALL over me, and with good reason.  "Don't EVER, EVER call what you do 'junk'!  Not EVER."

I got the message. 

I hope you do too.

Comments

Brava!
Merci, madame!
Awesome, Kate. I'll be sharing this one all over!
Cool! Joseph's heard it often enough, and so have my students, just thought I'd put it here too!
This could very much so go for writers, too!
Oh yes, it absolutely DOES. Anyone who does creative work hears those negative voices from the past. The trick is to learn to say "fine, however, I'm doing it anyway, and I plan to enjoy it." ;-)

(Anonymous)

Wonderful, Kate - you have articulated this so well. I see this downgrading of art all the time; and I see the doubting, sometimes, in friends and artist colleagues. And every day I thank my dear, dear parents, who NEVER said "don't be an artist" - they said "do what you love, and do it well...". I am so lucky...
Consie
I am too, Consie! That's pretty much what my dad said--"you can do anything you want to, if you're willing to work for it, just do your best." Never mind that we weren't rich or highly educated, and that I was a girl--he gave me the courage to TRY. That's all you can do.
There's absolutely NO "whether" about it. Do you know how much pleasure you've given to those who see your work, or how much courage? Never mind how YOU have blossomed. So yes, apparently you did! :-)
Good for you! That's WHY I work in my journal, at least one big reason...because it's not for sale. It's celebration and attention and exploration and learning. It makes my life so much richer and deeper...
And I you, kiddo!
And this is exactly what I needed to hear this week as I'm preparing to start making messes, let go and have fun!
You BET, girl, have a ball! You know I always encourage you...and hooray, you got your computer back!
i heard it from outside sources. i was blessed to have parents who encouraged me in music, acting, singing--but because my grandfather was an artist, that was put in last place due to my mother's life experience with that. (she was a very good artist in her own right, as was my father--but their generation of immigrants/great depression survivors couldn't afford to enjoy themselves in that way.) interesting that the pastor addressed this side of our lives on sunday... the "protestant/puritan work ethic", that demands productivity that can be seen and touched, as opposed to the kind of "work" that feeds the soul. i always think about mary and martha--martha working herself into a frenzy, while mary sat at the feet of the master, listening. and martha got gently scolded for her choice...

my philosophy as an adult is "hey--what i do may not be great, but there's nobody else out there, doing it!" it applies to wedding cakes, public speaking, singing, sewing, art...

it ain't great--but there's nobody else out there, being competition for my spot!
Hon, only YOU can be you, and you do it fantastically well! And encourage YOUR kids, I notice...

I know this attitude first hand

I was a victim of this attitude from my mother. I was a junior in college, studying accounting, following the career path my family pushed me toward, when I told my mother I wanted to change careers to journalism. I wanted to be a writer.

As any writer can tell you, writers have the same reputations as artists.

My mother freaked -- I'd never make a living, I'd starve, etc. -- and I backed down. I graduated with a degree in accounting and spent the next 8 years of my life as an auditor and financial analyst. I was good at my job, but I hated it. I hated waking up to go to work, I hated being part of the corporate grind.

I took control of my life after that 8-year side trip and changed careers. I was starting from scratch, working in a field I had no training and no connections. It took a while to reach the level of success I had in my first career, but it was worth every bit of effort.

Still, I mourn the loss of those 8 years I could have spent doing the work I wanted to do.

The advice so many people give is to do what you love; the money you need to get by will come. It will -- it certainly did for me. But you have to work hard to make it happen.

At least you'll be working hard for something you love to do.

And, for the record, that day in college was the last time I ever did what my mother told me.

Re: I know this attitude first hand

Good for you...I hope your mom came to appreciate the value in what you're doing now. And yes, I know writers and musicians have to face the same kind of negative feedback. What would the world BE without the beauty we colletively create? A very sad, grim place...

Don't mourn those years, though...you learned what was important and how to make it work for you. A lot of people never reach that place.

(Anonymous)

Thanks Guardian Angel

Dear Kate,

You have NO IDEA how apt and appropriate this was today. It made a difference.

Thank-you from the bottom of my heart.

Donna aka The Happy Painter

Re: Thanks Guardian Angel

Donna, I am delighted. I figured if just ONE person thought about things differently I'd be happy! I'm so glad you're working--and you're just getting better and better all the time!
Thank you for posting this. I agree with your "rant" and am constantly fighting that negative inner critic in order to dive back in and enjoy the process of creating. Even though I know that my art and creativity has value, I need all the pep talks I can get, because I'm an artist and not following the same path as everyone else.
I think you can count on them from this quarter.;-) I think it's of major importance in our own lives and in our experience as the human race.

Keep fighting that good fight!

(Anonymous)

From rose-anglaise.blogspot.com/

This is a brilliant post, Kate! Motivating words to read as I plough through my freelance work in order to make a chunk of time tomorrow for painting. With work and a small daughter it is easy to feel guilty about time spent so "frivolously" and self-indulgently ... but it is vitally important. E-J

Re: From rose-anglaise.blogspot.com/

It IS important! And with a child in your care, you have a wonderful model, and someone to pass along your love of art to. She'll know it's important, too! Maybe she won't have to fight that attitude when she's older, if she knows mom respects the creative urge...
I got the same treatment from some family members when I went back to school to study science illustration. But after that, I taught for a year in an after-school drawing program (1st-6th grades, all mixed together). When I would meet the kids for the first time and tell them that I was an artist, their eyes would get big, and they would say: "You're a REAL artist? wow! Mom, she's a REAL artist!" As if it were the coolest thing in the world. Most people do not give a reaction like that. It was a lot of fun (and the hardest job I've had so far!).