“I can’t even draw a stick figure,” “I can’t draw a straight line,” “I am not creative,” “I am not at all artistic.” I hear all of these statements frequently when I tell people that I am an artist and an art therapist. I heard it this morning from someone who has been reading this blog! News flash: drawing skill does not automatically make you an artist.
I believe that one can be artistic but not creative and creative but not artistic. Artistry and creativity do not automatically go hand in hand. Artistic skill is often assumed to be something that one has been gifted with at birth. Not true. Artistic skills can be learned. Sure, some people have innate gifts in this area, but I think this is true for many skills. But just because you weren’t born with a pencil in your hand doesn’t mean you can’t draw. When clients tell me that they can’t draw a straight line or a stick figure, I use what is called in therapy lingo “paradoxical intent.” I tell them they can only draw stick figures or lines and we are going to practice doing that until they are really good at it. Invariably they get totally bored after about two minutes and beg to be allowed to use color and draw something more complex. Now we are cooking with gas!
So what do people mean when they say they are not artists? Usually it turns out that they feel they cannot draw. Since when did being able to draw become the only criterion for identification as an artist? And by drawing, they mean drawing a realistic representation of an identifiable person, place or thing. When I was in art school, I left every figure drawing class in tears. I simply could not draw a realistic representation of a model. But then one day I learned to see. I made the breakthrough between what I thought the model should look like and what was actually there. I learned to see the space around the model and to discern the shadows and space. That’s all that it takes to be good at drawing: learning how to see. And that can be learned by anyone.
And that is all it takes to be an artist: a worldview that is committed to seeing all that is present. That is the secret, that is the mystery. It is not the private property of a select few, it is accessible to anyone who is willing to take the leap and see the dark and the light that surround us. It is accessible to you.