A weird question

EDIT: I’m going to make this a public entry. Why not? No pictures, but some thoughts about art.

All kids draw. I assume most of them like it.

And yet, most adults don’t.

I never stopped drawing/painting and grew up to be an illustrator. I know some other people who are artists (for work, or not for work, or whatever- I won’t get into the semantics of that). I assume those people never stopped drawing.

But I’m kind of curious about the experience of most people- those who did stop. Do you remember what happened?

Mind you, this is not intended as a criticism of people who aren’t into art. But I’m curious about what that transition was like. Did you just find other things you liked better and drawing fell by the wayside? Did you never like it very much, and when you had to draw a picture in school it was “work” just like any other assignment? Did your school not have an art program and not encourage that sort of thing beyond a certain age? Did you like to draw, but intentionally stopped at some point because you weren’t “good” at it?

When people talk about my work, they throw around words like “talent” and “gift.” I’ve actually worked really hard to be good. Do I have some kind of innate tendency to be good at art aside from that? Well, I’ve always loved it. Have I loved it because I’ve always been a little better than everyone else around me at it? Or was I simply a little better because I loved it so much?

I also often have people look at my work and wistfully say things like “oh, I used to draw” or “oh, I wish I could do that.” If you want to do it, why don’t you? I’ve had some conversations with Mike (my husband) about this, about how he wishes he was good at something creative (painting or music), but he feels like it’s not OK as an adult to put time into something and to be bad at it at first. Well, that’s part of it. He also thinks he’s more in love with the *idea* of being creative than he is with any of the actual process.

Do we fall in love with the things we happen to be good at, or do we get good at the things we love?


14 thoughts on “A weird question

  1. From really early on (age 6?) I could tell that the stuff I was drawing wasn’t any good. Mom would give me markers and paper and say “here you go”, and I’d draw a scrawly picture of our house with some balloons on it or something, and she’d say “Oh that’s so good!”. But then I’d watch cartoons or see some drawings done by older kids, and want to know how people drew like that, but nobody around could tell me or teach me.
    Art class in my schools were more a classes in crafting – we never got exposed much to technique. I picked up a lot of subtle cues that teaching me art wasn’t anybody’s priority… parents were encouraging, but they’d always throw my “work” away. And then I realized by fifth or sixth grade that certain other kids could draw a lot better than I could – they were singled out for cultivation and the rest of us were just tolerated. Art education was not at all a priority in 80s-era Carroll County schools.
    This is not meant as a complaint – my attention wasn’t really that focused on learning to create art – I was all over the place as a kid. And I was singled out for cultivation in academic areas and it helped me along in life a good deal. I do feel like I was kind of ripped off arts-wise though, especially in my Chicago crowd of ridiculously talented and well-trained artists.

  2. Hmmm…your mentioning writing has helped me figure out a bit better what I’m trying to express. For example, there are some people who are professional writers, and there are people who really hate to write and are really bad at it, but somewhere along that spectrum, writing is something everyone does to express themselves to some degree, even outside of a business setting. Casual blogging, for example.
    I wouldn’t necessarily argue that drawing as a skill is as important overall as writing, but I wonder if it would be more common as something that most adults do to express themselves if it wasn’t to some degree seen as a child’s activity that gets put aside at some point, except for a few who are especially good at it.

  3. Uh-oh, art jibber jabberin’ ahead
    I was always good at art, only because I drew 80% of the time (painfully introverted child hello). The urge to draw and improve came naturally, even if I couldn’t always get down on paper what I saw in my head. It wasn’t until highschool and college hit that drawing became a struggle; it became work and something that would be judged. Maybe some adults growing up couldn’t handle that pressure of being bad at something or not being encouraged enough, not that I could blame them. Besides, I was great academically, but art was the only thing that put a fire in me. It feels like I’ve had no choice but to pursue it.
    Art gets a bad reputation for being a non-utilitarian, childish activity. It also can’t be measured in units or degrees, so people don’t know what’s “good” art or what’s “bad” art. Some people think artists one bad day away from going wacko and getting strapped in a straitjacket. Others who don’t “get” art think we’re pseudo-intellectual elitists. Funny, that.
    This idea of my art being a “gift” is both kinda thrilling and very annoying. On the one hand, you feel special, like you have a leg up on the rest of the Mere Mortals of the world. But, on the other hand, it undermines all the damned time spent drawing and the sacrifice of a halfway decent social life (or maybe that last part just applies to me… xD ). A person looking at my art recently told me “God, it would’ve taken me years just to draw that one picture.” and I’m thinking, Well, in a way it has…

    • Re: Uh-oh, art jibber jabberin’ ahead
      “Besides, I was great academically, but art was the only thing that put a fire in me. It feels like I’ve had no choice but to pursue it.”
      Yeah, ditto. In a way, it sort of debunks the “I liked it because I was good at it” thing. I was good at a broad range of academics in school, and I applied myself to it because I wanted good grades, scholarships, etc., but I hated every minute of it. At least, the actual work of it- the information was interesting as a passive listener/reader, but the work itself was a nightmare.
      I remember a teacher telling me that I shouldn’t throw away the opportunity to get into an ivy league college in order to go to art school, and that I could always do art “later.” Except when I really thought about it, there was no path other than art that the thought of four more years of education in it, let alone a lifetime’s worth, didn’t make me want to break down and cry and feel utterly trapped and defeated. So that pretty much made the decision for me.

  4. I remember drawing through middle school. There was a stylized repetition to what I drew. The same thing over and over, trying to get it right. Going into High School my drawing became more directed as I started taking technical drawing classes. The t-square, ruler, and french curl became my friends then. Senior year of High School I went into programming classes and the drawing which has become all technical at that point faded with the change of study.
    I went back to more freehand drawing from time to time but the results were never really what I wanted them to be. A artist I was close to at the time used the term ‘naive’ and while I realized later it was a technical term.. at the time it hurt and I think I gave up completely at that point.

  5. I never stopped drawing. Of course, I’m not a professional and I don’t delude myself into thinking I’m very good at it, but I enjoy it and I don’t imagine anybody else is going to see it anyway, so why not?
    I especially like to take colored pencils and a sketch pad with me on vacation. Drawing things I see is way better than taking pictures of it.
    Regarding the question of loving the things we’re good at versus being good at the things we love, I’ve always been a very good writer, but I don’t *love* it. Maybe I did at one time, but that’s been thoroughly beaten out of me now that I do it for a living. It pays the bills, but that’s about it. And that is the very reason I refuse to sell my knitting.

  6. I drew in elementary school. I did not dry in junior high because we had no art program. I took a sculpture class in high school. I doodled in the margins of my notes in college and took some class involving engineering drawings freshman year. After a professor read what was going on in the margin of my notes out loud to the class, there was less drawing. I tried to paint something human-like when I was in Colorado. It didn’t turn out amazing, but it was fun.
    I tend to love things that I struggle with a little but not things that I struggle with a lot.
    I still have some paints from the time I tried to paint. They may all be dried up.
    Professional art seemed to require a speed that I was always afraid of. After a friend of mine became a sequential artist, it seemed that speed came with a whole lot of practice.

  7. I always wanted to be able to draw, but I just can’t. I’m no good at it. I can’t hold an image in my mind in order to try to reproduce it, and if I’m looking at something I simply can’t put that image to paper (usually. Once or twice I’ve done things I liked). I also don’t think visually. When I am thinking about something it’s usually in words, not pictures.
    I still try to draw on occasion, but I always get frustrated and put it aside.
    It also never helped that my brother is very talented, drawing wise. He’s naturally able to draw whatever he wants very well, so I always compared my work to his and it was a huge let down.
    So I do other creative things. I love writing, circus arts, magic, etc.

  8. What Prote said. Also, in second grade I had the project I was working on held up in front of the class by my art teacher as an example of “what NOT to do”. As an adult I can look back and say: 1) what the teacher did was awful but I also think she was a frustrated young artist just out of college who taught because she needed a job and was not necessarily the right person to be teaching kids, and 2) as a shy kid that totally destroyed me and I didn’t feel confident trying because I might be ridiculed again. That feeling has followed me all my life, in all things (I am not a risk taker), so the fact that I took up dancing is pretty amazing.
    I do remember the art teacher before the awful one was this great hippie lady who wore smocks and let us, at first graders, carve lino blocks. I think that if there had been more art classes with a good combo of technique and a wide range of projects (not just drawing and painting but also sculpting and printing and fabric arts) that more kids would find that they have a talent or knack for something. Perhaps not all of us will be able to create realistic portraits (which is what I’d like to be able to do, to really reproduce what I see) but I think we could be good at some visually artistic medium.
    I ended up writing but never pursued creative writing because I was too shy to show it to other people and creative writing was not encouraged at school, only academic writing. The one class I took in college was taught by a part time professor who was a lawyer and was (in my opinion) a frustrated writer and not a good teacher and HELLO! Do you see a theme here! If you’re teaching creative things I think you need to be a good teacher too because when you’re teaching something that really touches peoples opinions it’s really easy to completely squash fragile creative egos.
    Anyway, sometimes I think of taking some basic art classes to see if it’s possible to really get somewhere with it. Same thing with singing, I’d like to polish what little ability I have. Now, I am a lazy ass and music lessons are wasted on me for lack of practice.

    • Oh man, I want go punch that teacher in the nose! What a horrible thing to do to a child! Or to any student, for that matter.
      When I TAed at MICA, the most important thing I found myself trying to express to foundation drawing students is how totally OK it is to put down a wrong mark on a piece of paper, or to make a horrible drawing. The paper won’t explode, no one will die.
      Obviously I’m completely biased, but I think taking art classes is always a good idea. But really, trying anything you want to try is a good idea. I think getting into the burner community has really helped my sense of “why the fuck not.” Sometimes there are financial or logistical barriers in the way of doing certain things, but most often it’s just fear of failure or ridicule that gets in the way of most people doing anything, I think.

  9. Folks are too self-conscious to draw after the first kid in school made fun of their drawings.
    Folks who are thick skinned/don’t care/reasonable/determined enough become good at what they love sooner or later.
    Loving what we’re good at often happen because we recieve praises and respect from it.
    Things depends on situation and person in question I think.

  10. When I was a kid, all I did with my freetime was draw. I have six or seven boxes just filled with godawful superhero drawings from when I was in junior high. I still drew consistently through college, but it stopped shortly after that.
    For me, it’s a function of multiple things:
    1) I hit a “talent wall”. I was “very good” compared to other high schoolers, “good” compared to other students at a liberal arts college and I’m “barely tolerable” compared to the professional artists I work with every day. It’s WAY easier (and faster) for me to just tell an artist what to draw.
    2) I ran out of time (and space). When I was a teenager, I had tons of free time to kill and a room of my own that no one ever entered but me. I didn’t have to worry about leaving pots of India ink all over the place or piles of half-finished drawings littering the room.
    3) My priorities changed. When I was younger, I didn’t need a reason to draw. I just did it. Now, I’ve got a career, a wife, family and friends who need attention – all the typical “I just got busy” stuff. I’ll still draw if I have an explicit reason to (I did some work with one of my childhood favorite comic artists a couple years back, for example), but those occasions are rare.
    I’m the same way with music for almost exactly the same reasons. I can still play and compose, but I don’t unless something very specific comes up. The couple of times that I got “pulled out of retirement” were very cool, but I’m never going to be a sufficiently talented or focused musician to pursue it to any greater degree.

  11. Art Teachers…Ugh.
    For me it was some combination of being just plain lazy and teachers that probably could have chosen better words to tell me to get off my butt or tell me I didn’t have “it” Being an introvert, it was discouraging – I still remember how awful I felt after going to an art colleges open house at the Corcoran in DC and hearing lots of criticism of my portfolio but not a lot of compliments. It made me feel perhaps my time would be better spent majoring in something else. Then that something else, then working full time took my art and drawing time away. I probably would have MADE the time for them but maybe being discouraged came into play here and I decided if I wasn’t good enough, why bother? I got my answer to that when I had kids. One thing nobody’s mentioned yet – maybe I’m the only mom who’s posted so far – is when you’ve been discouraged by those thinking you aren’t talented enough, you stop caring once your child asks you to draw something for them. They don’t care if it’s technically perfect or a line is off – they care that you drew it for them. They have given the sheer joy of art back to me and good enough no longer matters.nt.

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