Did you, or do you, have a hard time calling yourself an artist? Your definition of art could contribute to this mindset.
There are specific qualities or traits we expect of ourselves and others when we take on the label “artist.”
Often our ideas about art and artist dwell in the subconscious. We don’t take the time to consciously consider definitions of art and how this impacts our life choices when it comes to creating art. Growing up I never felt I was good “enough” at art. There were always people better than me at art. So when family discouraged me from a career in art I took that to mean I wasn’t “good enough” to make a career from my art.
As a teacher I’ve observed this same story in many, many students. It made me wonder: what would make you, me, “good enough?” And I discovered for many this is about skill. Am I skillful enough? This is the question we really ask ourselves at one point or another.
There is good news. Skill is not talent. Skill is about learning specific tips, tricks and techniques that ALL artists can use to better their art.
Yes, there are challenges to learning new skills. It can be uncomfortable. Generally, when we try something new, we aren’t very good at it. And it takes time to build confidence and incorporate this new skill into our artist repertoire. Some artists will find it easier to acquire new skills than others (this is that predisposition/talent bit) but EVERYONE can improve their skill.
After feeling like I was incapable of being a “successful artist” through most of high school and early college I signed up for an art class. I observed my work came easily and I felt this resurgence of joy and play in my life. I felt at home in my own skin. I could still hear the voices of people forewarning me of the uncertainty of the artist’s life, but I kept drawing anyway. The more time I spent building my skill, the more confidence I felt in me and my art.
I see people skipping this critical step of artistic development. Building skills such as observational drawing can be boring, repetitive, and filled with hard work. Training our eyes to see in new ways is not an easy task. So people jump into what feels fun, which is often more abstracted, heavily intuitive work. Yet, it is the artists who learn the skills behind observational drawing, for example, who have more skillful art of ALL genres. The choice to be abstract or non-objective doesn’t come from trying to hide or avoid a lack of skill, it comes from a place of genuine curiosity and discovery.
Picasso is a great example of this. Observe his early works. He developed foundational art skills, such as drawing, which allowed him to then deviate, explore and have the confidence to take risks and create art like Guernica and Le Demoiselle D Avignon. Basquiat was another artist with a unique style and artistic voice whose work is very abstract and yet, he learned basic drawing skills that informed the nature of his work.
People get so discouraged that they aren’t any “good” at observational drawing that they give up before they really start. This breaks my heart. Because really, the path isn’t the same for everyone. Francis Bacon never went to art school, for example, and is known for his figural art. The problem, ultimately, returns to your own definition of “good enough.”
Today I have an ARTsheet to help you work through your own definition of “good enough.” You can assess whether your current path and process meshes with your own definitions of success. Sign up here to get today’s ARTsheet:
I’ve realized in my own life, my ability to draw from life is important to me. It is a key component of how I define my own “good enough.” Part of that has held me back at times from acknowledging the power and role of my intuitive side. But work like Frida Strong has helped me begin to mesh the two. And it makes me wonder: how much art are we missing out on because of our own self-made rules of art?!
Be Creatively Courageous: What skill should you develop to acknowledge your own “rules of art?”