“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 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.”
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.
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!