The Insidious Echo of Thoughtless Advice

The Insidious Echo of Thoughtless Advice - laLuminaire

“I think you may want to consider another major.”

The words pinned me to the spot. I couldn’t speak or even formulate a response in my mind. I stood there like a wooden toy while she packed her things and left for the day.

The next morning I was in the chemistry department, launching an eleven year trajectory of seeking and discarding major after major (nine, in all) before finally realizing that I still wanted that degree in art.

It took eleven years for me to break past the self-doubt directed by that well-meaning, but creatively catastrophic sentence from my Drawing 101 teacher. Eleven years to realize that she never even bothered to ask me why I was studying art, or whether I was planning to make a career of it.

I wasn’t.

I just wanted to learn more about the one thing, other than reading, that I was most passionate about. Instead, I learned that I wasn’t good enough. I learned to push aside my passion. I learned feel shame for my lack of skill.

It took me eleven years to realize that the very person who was charged with helping me, at the most fundamental level, to develop my skills, instead sent me into a decade of separation from the thing that kept me sane through the pain and loss that spanned my years as a teen. I didn’t pick up a paintbrush or drawing pencil for years, and when I did, I couldn’t stand to look at the result. All I could see was “it isn’t good enough”. The proportions would be off, or the angle wasn’t right. I messed up on the perspective,or the shadows were wrong.

And then one day, a dear friend heard me beating myself up and gave me this quote, from Francis Bacon:

“There is no beauty that has no strangeness to its proportion.”

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That one sentence gave me the space to explore without trying to perfect the subject’s outward appearance, but to be more concerned with its expression. It was a tiny step, followed by another and another. Steps that lead me into painting with an abandon, in a way I never had before, and eventually, back into art school.

Sadly, that sentence still echoed in my head. I just learned to ignore it sometimes. I graduated with a degree in studio art, never having any intention of making a living with it, but just to experience the joy of making and learning about art again.

And still, another 10 years later, those words bounce around in my head when I pick up a drawing pencil or paintbrush.

But here’s the thing – I do it anyway. I refuse to let the words of a misguided artist, who failed as a teacher, keep me from submerging myself in something that calls deeply to my soul. When the noise of the doubt becomes deafening, I do something simple, tiny, or purposely ugly, because complexity, scale, and beauty have no monopoly on creative expression.

Sometimes, it’s nothing more than smearing paint on the page with my fingers. And sometimes, I cover it over completely with something else, because I don’t like the way it’s going. But even then, the original is always beneath the new work, the underpinning upon which it sits, adding depth, and texture,and hidden meaning. Just as those words are underneath every piece of art I’ve created since, though every paint stroke or slide of charcoal across paper further obscures the sound of it.

The Insidious Echo of Thoughtless Advice - laLuminaire

What words sometimes echo in your own head when you create?  Do you/have you allowed it to stop you?  How do you get past them? Post your thoughts below so we can have a conversation!

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12 Responses

  1. Meg Manderson
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    Just think how hard on themselves people like that must be. No joy! I flunked art one quarter in the 7th grade because I, at 5’9″ could not fit comfortably at the junior sized desks we had. The teacher told me if I stood up one more time….

    But here are my two mantras: To practice art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it. – Kurt Vonnegut

    and

    Being an artist is neither a profession nor a hobby. Art is a way of being. – Frederick Franck

  2. Kim Forman
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    Wow. Flunking a kid for not fitting in her desk. There is a new low.

    I’m so glad you found your the inspiration to keep going! Yay!

  3. Danielle
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    As a child, when I was good at academics, I would sometimes get made fun of for having talent. “Teacher’s pet,” “dork,” and “what makes you so special?” were common phrases I would hear upon turning in tests or assignments first.

    I turned to my athleticism as another way to shine. When I clearly outran every person in my class, there was no way I could be denied my rightful compliments!
    Well, I was always the strange kid to them. I learned to dull my abilities to “fit in.” To be like everyone else seemed more important to my adolescent mind.
    It wasn’t until high school when I started hanging out with other creative, talented people outside my school that I realized I could be myself. Still, I struggle with shining too brightly at anything because I fear of how people will respond. It’s something I realized about myself a few years ago and have been working to mend. I’ve always done well for myself but have always wondered what would be different had I been “allowed” to shine more.

    The Good Vibe Tribe was instrumental in pulling the real me out of my shell again. Kim, you have been a huge beacon for helping others realize their talents and shine. I’m forever grateful to you for your reflection and friendship. Watching the way you encourage others to be themselves as you selflessly give your time and attention to help them feel special is the thing I admire most about you. Loved the post and look forward to more!

    Love, Danielle

  4. Kim Forman
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    Oh, wow. I can’t imagine you ever doing anything BUT shining! You are incredibly talented at pretty much whatever you decide to do. I’m grateful that you are moving past that reluctance to bring forth your radiance, so that we can all bask in the warmth of it.

    You are a huge inspiration to me and to many, many others. Shine on, love, shine on. <3

  5. Diane Tower-Jones
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    Thank you Kim for your words, shared with such candid courage!

    I empathise.

    I grew up with both encouragement and opportunity when it came to the performing arts. I attended dance school and music school from a young age, in addition I participated in numerous stage performances throughout adolescence. As a result of so much creative expression, (less so as a result of good parenting), I emerged into adulthood vaguely sane and not completely broken.

    However, alongside such richness came a profoundly mixed-up message; it was tacitly impressed upon me that I did not deserve to live a creative life as an adult. (Creative expression began as child’s play and became a way to keep teenagers out of their parents’ hair.) The received “wisdom” was that the only worthy path was to be of service. In my early 20’s I became seriously ill, an event which presented just the opportunity I “needed” to step away from my creativity. Thus I went into the field of medicine and healing. For 15 years I had a wonderful, fulfilling career as an acupuncturist and body worker, that is until my creative self could no longer keep quiet and I hit burn out.

    Ten years ago I left behind a professional life of service and embarked upon a creative life. I still watch how nearly every day I threaten to sabotage my creativity. Procrastination, self doubt, over-caring for others; these are my challenges and my teachers. Some days sabotage wins, some days creativity wins. I’m in my early 50’s now. Believing that I deserve to live a creative life, to call myself an artist, to take the time to dream – this is my life’s work.

    Remembering that I am not alone on this path makes a huge difference. Kim – we don’t know each other so well, we’ve barely shared our creative endeavours, and yet I sense that simply having met, along with taking the time to hear each other’s words, makes a difference. Thank you for sharing your soft underbelly; I love you!

  6. Kim Forman
    |

    Thank you for sharing your journey, Diane. Isn’t it wild how easily we dive into self-sabotage?

    It’s interesting to me that so many healers are artists (or so many artists are healers). Can we make time to hang out sometime in the next few months? I would so love to hear more of your story, and just see your beautiful face!

  7. Hali
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    This is a powerful post and journey you’ve lived, Kim. I have a similar but different story that has been on my mind lately for some reason, too. An art teacher as well… who criticized not my technical skill, but the very fact that I felt passionate enough to talk/express about a controversial topic through my art – related to the objectification of women. It wasn’t ‘fine artsy’ enough in her opinion, I guess… But what she said was, “You’ll get over this.” Referring to the topic itself. I was not even twenty, she was 2-3 times my age – and I had looked up to her as a thoughtful, smart artist and woman. It silenced my voice and natural, creative process in the world for a very long time. Thankfully, I’ve discovered that it wasn’t just a phase of concern, and I have never gotten over it. But sometimes I wonder what path my art might have taken if that passion and inquisitiveness that was very real for me had been nurtured then by my teacher… if she had believed what I did then and still do now – that art gives us a place and a voice to explore what it is that lights us up and moves through our awareness and energy – and that this, above all else, matters. So glad you are still creating and sharing so boldly, Kim. I feel blessed to know you!
    Hali recently posted…Green Lights and Starting Somethings for Later {instagram weekly round-up}My Profile

  8. Kim Forman
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    Whoa. I am thrilled that you never “got over it”. So, what…art should be all nude figures and fruit bowls? How could any artist not see the value in using creativity to shine a light on the things that matter most deeply to us? Expressing our truth, and making others think is far more powerful than being able to perfectly capture the shape of an apple.

    The more I hear about the debilitating effect of negative voice from the past in relation to making art, the more I wonder what our culture would look like if we nourished creativity, in ourselves and in others, at every turn, rather than quashing it.

    I see you, sister. And I stand with you.

  9. Lucy Pearce
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    Powerful words and a powerful story. I feel richer for having witnessed them and glad you have found medicine in Spectrum. X

  10. Kim Forman
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    Thank you, Lucy. That warms my heart to hear. Spectrum is a beautiful support system for internal exploration. I look forward to crossing path on there in the future! I’ll be art journaling more as soon as I get my craft room set up in the new house. Can’t wait!

  11. Diane Tower-Jones
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    Yes Kim, would love to hang out before the year is over.
    Looking forward to your next blog post.
    <3

  12. Kim Forman
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    Yay!

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