As children, we are all encouraged to be artists. No child’s book bag is complete without crayons, and kindergarten days are punctuated with nap times and watercolor paints. However, as we grow, the emphasis on our creative expression fades. Art becomes only a realm for the technically skilled. We are encouraged to focus on our future career prospects, and the pleasures of artistic creation appear as frivolous time-wasters.
Birth of Shame
My earliest memory of art shame comes from second grade. Tasked with painting a toucan in the exact manner of the guest teacher, I failed miserably. My toucan’s bill was misshapen, the eye looked more like an amoeba than the signature marble. The instructor ended the class by highlighting the best young artists in the class. Unchosen, I sulked in the car seat of my dad’s Volvo, lamenting my perceived failure.
Once in high school, I attempted once more to dip my toes into the waters of creation. The “art girl” trend was in full force, and I began to assimilate myself to the growing culture of Kånken backpacks filled with markers and acrylics. Although I had re-instigated my interest in art for rather vain reasons, I soon became enraptured by all things creative. I took courses in art history and painting, determined I would soon learn the technical skills I so desperately yearned for. My after school routine became concrete; my parent’s oak coffee table became my easel as I spent hours eating microwavable lentils and putting paint to canvas. The pent up energy I felt from hours at a desk exploded onto my canvas, as did the rising tension that tainted my home life.
Growth and Creation
During this time, I began therapy. After reaching a breaking point, I had finally gathered the courage to ask my parents for help. From breathing exercises to mindfulness, I gained skills to help me deal with the overwhelming emotions I felt. However, the most important lesson was that of art as therapy.
My mother didn’t like my paintings after this change. I switched my focus. Gone were my sorry attempts at replicating impressionists and the old masters; instead, my room became filled with grotesque and contorted faces, crying women, and depictions of Catholic art style suffering. Unlike that which was depicted in my creations, I felt liberated. I felt like Dorian Gray; the more upsetting my paintings became, the better I felt. In visualizing and replicating my emotions, I felt them flow away from me. It served as a separation from myself. I found that releasing my pain was easier when it could be viewed outside the confines of my mind.
I forgot my love of art once I became entrenched in college work. No longer could I put off homework in favor of painting, and art supply costs add up when supporting oneself. I soon deemed it a waste of time. I “knew” I could never be a working artist, and I was conditioned to believe that art for art’s sake was the stuff of hopeless dreamers. My frustrations and anxieties piled up, and soon began to seep to the surface.
Painting for the Soul
Quarantine has been challenging. It did not exclude me. My mental health deteriorated, and without insurance, I found myself coping alone. But, a surprise trip to Michael’s inspired a spark within me. I once again see the benefits of “silly” art; it destroys the pain, while creating something new.
I still struggle with art shame and find myself discouraged by my own preconceived notions of what art is and what it is meant for. Society conditions us to see art, like many other things, as a trade. Why waste our precious hours making something no one wants to buy? As I grow more comfortable with my own abilities, I have come to realize the healing properties of art, detached from monetary value. Art and creation should be valued for how they impact you, not purely how they impact the rest of the world.
Many stand surely by the statement “I can’t draw”; given a marker, they shuffle away, afraid of the possible ridicule. If you relate to this, I encourage you: go create. Even if you have no plans, no fancy supplies, no idea of where to start- just try. Let your mind wander, and your hand move. It may be surprising.