Walking in the woods the other day, I was thinking of all the courses I have taught, all the students I have taught. I can be pleased with the people I have started, and pleased with the insights and discovery I have witnessed as people found they were able to translate their thoughts and emotions about the world around them into images on paper.
But let me tell you about the greatest gift I can give you.
The greatest gift I can give you is an open mind
- being able to try even if you might fail
- being able to try again when the first effort didn’t work out
- being able to forgive yourself when things go wrong
- being able to get a clean piece of paper and take what you have learned in order to do a better job instead of trying to “fix” the first effort
- being able to quiet the voices of critics in your head, ignore the criticism of well-meaning and self-appointed judges
- being able to gamble on your ability to learn the techniques and use them to your own ends
All athletes know about failure. Ask the basketball player who has saved the game at the buzzer how many times since he or she started playing he/she has missed the basket. Ask the quarterback how many times he has failed to connect with his receiver, the batter how many times he/she has swung and missed.
Are you giving yourself that many attempts before you judge? If not, why not?
How about the musician — piano, trumpet, saxophone, violin — Concerts after only a year? Never practicing scales? Never working through a composition again and again until he or she can get beyond the notes to an interpretation?
Is learning an instrument more demanding than learning to paint well?
Or learning a foreign language?
When I was taking groups of artists to paint in Greece I decided I needed to learn Greek. I also thought, “If I can learn to speak Greek, anyone (who sets their mind to it) can learn to paint!”
I am not good at languages. I don’t have the “ear.” I had four years of Latin, three of French, one of Italian. When I was in band in the 8th grade, with high school French looming, the title of one of ours songs, “Rendezvous.” If that said “rahn-day -vou” I was in trouble, Learning French was every bit as bad as I feared.
Greek doesn’t even use our alphabet. I told myself that with my poor ear for language I would be slower. I would make more mistakes. I would need to go back over words again and again. But I would learn, little by little.
I learned to speak as a two-year old, as a four-year old. I learned the vocabulary I needed to run the trip. I learned the vocabulary I needed as occasions arose. I learned to speak Greek well enough that I could think in Greek. I was there – in the moment — with the people to whom I was talking. I probably was talking as a 6 year old. There is so much to the language that I don’t know, But six year olds can communicate pretty clearly and so could I.
Ifyou, the artist, are slower, if that is what it takes, don’t beat up on yourself. Allow yourself your mistakes. Try again. Figure out what didn’t work the last time and how you are going to approach it this time. Reward yourself for your successes.
Keep a journal and write down what you do each time you work on your art. Write down at least one good thing about the session. Structure what you want to change or do better in positive terms.
Ban certain words and phrases from your head:
- I can’t
- I’ll never be any good
- Why do you think you can do this?
- So and so is so much better, quicker, etc. than I
I can teach you techniques. I can work with you to help you discover the artist within you. I know how to do that. The most difficult part of teaching adult artists is dealing with the negative voices in their head, dealing with their crippling fear of failure.
Give yourself 100 paintings before you allow anyone to judge your work — and that includes you!
If I can get your to trust your ability to learn what you need to know to paint the paintings you wish to paint, that is the greatest gift I can give you.
The progressions of paintings show you how two different ideas for paintings evolved into ideas that took over from the original inspiration. I tried and tried again until I felt I got what I wanted. With the girl and the umbrella – my challenge became how could I keep the light shape I liked in the 2nd painting and come up with a balance of color and light? The fisherman was again about sunlight, but I had to keep pushing him more and more to the right as I became fascinated with a shadow that I made up. The continuous dark was the challenge.
I supposed I should add that although these finally turned out, there are others that don’t. Like I am urging you, I let them go, Please — don’t beat up on yourself and give yourself a fresh start..
© Caroline Buchanan, 2012