I can’t even draw a stick figure

“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.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rye
    Dec 23, 2010 @ 04:42:32

    I am very adept at drawing Stick Figures, it’s one of my true skillz and passions in life.


  2. Michelle
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:05:18

    I think this is one of the best pep talks I’ve ever had. I’m 22 years old and I just began to study art with the intention to make a double major with psychology and from there go to my masters on Art Therapy. However, not only my age has been a source of stress (since I consider is kind of late to start on this long journey) the fact that I don’t find myself talented enough has been an even bigger frustration for me, since I lack the capability of drawing things from my brain, I have the need to watch something to be able to actually draw it. Recently I’ve feared that I wont be able to pass the entrance exam to Art Therapy school at all. Therefore, to read these words from a real art therapist has filled me with inspiration and hope. I still haven’t taken one class of art, what little I know I’ve learned from observation, so perhaps I still have a shot at this dream. Thank you! ^^


    • jennavarro
      Jul 20, 2011 @ 01:23:05

      Thanks for the comments Michelle! 22 is a spring chicken! I started grad school at 24 and I think I was too young. 🙂 There is nothing wrong with drawing from life. I actually do better when I have something to look at when I am drawing. It can be done, hang in there and don’t let your dreams be easily swept aside. Best, Jen


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