“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced,”Vincent Van Gogh
A few weeks before my fifteenth birthday, I decided that I had no artistic talent. I had, just a month earlier, been told by another kid, that I couldn’t draw. I respected that kid’s opinion and decided to follow through. I would never take another art class again. It was time to let go of art. And so, I did. Sort of. I never stopped doodling and attempting to draw cartoons. But I put my energy into other things. I tried to build a career as a journalist. But something was always missing. Slowly, I became aware that my life became a little less colorful because I had excluded art from it. My mother was aware of that, too, and she kept pushing me to take art classes. I declined for a long time, saying that I had no talent. But she was relentless and continued to tell me that I needed art in my life.
One day, I decided to take an art class. I said to myself, “Self, you have no talent so your paintings are going to be terrible. Since you know that your paintings will be bad, you don’t have to worry about that. Just have fun making your bad paintings.” I thought that was funny, so I laughed at the idea of me celebrating Bad Paintings.
As it turned out, that was the best thing that I could have said to myself. I had freed myself from all expectations, and I had given myself permission to fail. But, most of all, I had given myself permission to enjoy the process.
For sure, the process was fun, and I didn’t fail. I actually liked the pictures that I created in that class. After that, I decided that art could be part of my life again.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about art and about life. Technical skills that I’ve learned have included color theory and perspective. I’ve learned that a painting is kind of an optical illusion to make the viewer see three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. I’ve learned that, when you create a painting, you are transforming a blank piece of paper or canvas into a world. A world of your making. It is your story and your vision. That is what makes art magical.
Art also brought my mother and me together in a very special way. She was my best supporter. She told me that my style was impressionistic. And she celebrated every painting that I brought home. After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and was placed in a nursing home, I showed her paintings that I had recently made. She had become somewhat withdrawn and I was trying to bring her out because I wanted to see her smile again. I remember the day when she looked at my painting and she said, “Oh, Alice, that’s beautiful. You are so talented.” I was so happy because it was like my pre-Alzheimers mom had come out. I gave her a kiss and told her how much I loved her. And she smiled that radiant smile that I feared had disappeared. I was so happy that we had re-bonded through art.
What about that elusive talent? Do you need it to make art?
Apparently not. Being able to produce art is more about the effort that it takes to gain the skills than about innate talent. It’s more about practice than anything else. It’s more about filling sketchbooks with awful pictures than about magically producing a great masterpiece. And it’s about fun. I learned that my joy is reflected in the artistic pieces that I create. And that sometimes, the artistic piece that I create is far different than the one that I visualized at the beginning of the process. And it’s about gratitude. Gratitude to my mother, who encouraged me. Gratitude to my art teachers for teaching me that art is about seeing and who taught me to see in a different way. And gratitude to everyone else who has supported me and encouraged me in the process. I couldn’t have done it on my own.