The idea that some people are more creative than others is bullshit.
I won’t deny that there are variations in aptitude and interest, but I do believe we all have a creative capacity and that we would be healthier happier people if we exercise that capacity. This has a lot to do with creativity’s relationship to a healthy mindset. The thing is, without that natural aptitude or interest, or if one wasn’t encouraged at an early age, making art can feel incredibly difficult. To be honest, in some ways, it’s never not-hard no matter how long you work at it. For the purposes of this blog entry though, I’ll be discussing why it’s hard for beginners.
Observational drawing in particular seems to have this petrifying effect on people. In my limited experience teaching drawing, even getting people to put a pencil to paper and make a mark is challenging. The worst possible outcome is a bad drawing, and I’ve made plenty of those- I make bad drawings all the time. It’s not a big deal. But for many people this process is very painful and they look desperately for short cuts- ask for simpler subjects to draw, map out grids on their pages, resort to formulas of lines and shapes, etc. Don’t misunderstand, there are uses for these tools, but I sometimes watch beginners lean hard on them as though they will assure success. If these tools are what get them to start marking up a page, so be it, but they have to let go of it if they’re actually going to learn to see and draw.
Let me share another take on this same phenomenon. I’ve been involved in roller derby for a few years. Learning to skate was, literally, a painful process. Last night I went to a class where a lot of new people were trying out skating, some for the first time. I don’t remember these contraptions from when I was a kid, but there are PVC pipe frames with wheels we call “walkers” that some of of the most timid new skaters were using. The skater holds onto them to help with balance and many of us veterans grumble over them.
What they do is prevent one from falling. And to learn to skate, one must fall. To learn to really skate, they have to leave the walkers behind and bring their breakable bodies into a new way of being. They have to learn to listen deep inside with their bones and muscles.
And yes, it hurts to fall. Sometimes it hurts a lot.
The thing is, many people have had those metaphorical falls when it comes to art making and it hurt so bad they never got back up. Brene Brown found exactly this in her research on shame:
“… 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – fifty percent of that 85% percent, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So fifty percent of those people have art scars.”¹
Art scars that changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. That’s heavy. Although I don’t personally bear this sort of art-scar, I know the feeling she’s talking about. And I know plenty of people who do bear these scars. Among these people, most of them tell me they don’t want to correct this- they’re happy without it. They claim they don’t feel the lack, “I’m just not artistic, I couldn’t draw a straight line!” or “I can’t even draw stick figures!”
The earnestly seem to view “artists” as a different breed of people, and it’s a breed they don’t belong to. I don’t feel qualified to argue with what makes people happy, but when I see people venture into a drawing lesson, sweating and fretting over shy strokes of graphite, I think that- at least for some people- that hunger is real. But for many the simple act of drawing what one sees has been confused with the ego which really really wants to get it right. If they get that little incubus of creativity shame perched over their hearts as well, even the hunger can be dampened.
This is why art is hard. It’s a fight through layers of ego and maybe past an incubus that needs to get lost. To get to the meat of art- the zone, the listening deep inside with bones and muscle, hearing the signal through the noise, seeing and drawing for what it really is- is vulnerable. Which is why art is hard.
¹ Side note- as I was skimming for this quote, my partner walked by and said “Magic lessons! Ooo, fancy!” I didn’t know what he was talking about and unfocused from my text-block skimming. There was a bright rainbow square with the words “Would you like to take a couple of MAGIC LESSONS with me this summer?” right in the middle of the paragraph I was skimming. I laughed because I hadn’t seen it at all. He made a comment about my 20/10 vision… Then I told him that I’m working on a blog article about seeing and he laughed. A lot.