“BUT I CAN’T DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE!”
(and other fibs we tell ourselves) BY PIP DENHAM
First of all. I know what you are thinking - “It’s easy for you to say... you’re an artist, bet you’ve been doing this all your life? Then you tell me you can’t draw for toffee (I prefer cash, I’m rarely paid in toffee). You protest even further. “Have a look at this... I am NOT an artist. Look closely. It’s apparent to everyone, I-can-not-draw-a-straight-line!”. Easy Tiger, I hear you.
Here’s something to think about. Just look at that word you used, ‘Apparent’. The definition of apparent is ‘as far as one can know or see’. It does not mean certain, or definite. ‘Apparently’, nobody could run the 4-minute mile, then at some point in time, along came Roger Bannister. Then everyone was doing it. It was certain that my aging mum couldn’t abseil (due to a fear of heights) but years later, something ‘
apparently’ changed - She stopped believing her fears and in her mid-60‘s abseiled down the side of a tower block. She even surprised herself and gave me the heebie-jeebies!
So, ‘As far as one can know or see’, seems to be as limited as the dodgy appraisal of our own artistic skills. The honest truth is you are mistaken. In all likelihood you have hoodwinked yourself.
Ok, ok you’ll no doubt try and convince me of the litany of wonky efforts over the years. That drawing of your beloved pet, that wouldn’t look out of place in an alien morgue. Funny, if it didn’t feel so tragic.
You could do this. No seriously. Neither drawing is bad and both we’re fun to do. The right kind of belief and time is the only difference. But boy was the artist pleased with the progress.
Most of us can trace things back to a parent, teacher, or when our peers either laughed, looked confused, or were non-plussed at the drawing you (at that point) were actually quite pleased with. When you’re a nipper, it’s quite a shock to the psychological system to get this kind of knock-back.
Let me be clear, I’m not talking to those who are relatively unmoved, or uninterested in general artistic pursuits. I’m talking to the sketchers, the doodlers, the cross-stitching stalwarts, card makers supremos, plasticine pounders and the like who (though in love with their pursuits) want to stretch themselves artistically, even if it’s just a little. Most of us at some point want to go beyond our current abilities, to free ourselves from the creative mud into the wider world. AKA: “Oooo that’s good. Did you do that?”
I am speaking to those who want to draw, paint or even sculpt something that garners a positive and interested response from yourself, as well as others. Something that is wrongly but understandably called ‘Proper Art’. It’s one thing not to care about what others think, it’s quite another to realize and accept, that we all need validation and feedback, to show us our progress and possibility. In fact, it is a foundational human need, if we are to progress at all.
Ok, so it took 6 years to get to where she wanted. But the artist (previously a convinced artistic failure) was in her 30’s when she started drawing again (she had stopped age 7).
The good news for you ‘straight line’ avoiders, is that you can get there. You will. You must. But how (?) is always the next unavoidable question. I know, I know... You’ve heard it all before. You want solid advice, not platitudes. It always seems like the answers are as varied as they are obvious. Join an art group - Buy a good ‘How To’ book - Turn the picture you want to copy upside down before drawing (actually really fun and rewarding). All good advice, but they don’t get to the core of your muddy problem.
The good news is the solution has a straight forward, one-word answer. And that word is simply... BELIEF.
NO, NO, no... not belief in yourself, or the ‘artist within’, or any of those New-Age affirmations you can think of (not dissing them, they can be helpful in keeping us afloat and optimistic).
Sometimes when we stop believing we ‘can’t’ we then ‘can’, with a little help and encouragement, make great progress.
I’m talking about belief, as in, ‘dropping your belief’ Disbelieving your certainties, dropping all you might think you know, surrounding your artistic skills, worth or possibility. Once you do this, you return to the time before you ‘learned’ you couldn’t draw. You create a space for possibility. And in my experience, once you feed and water this attitude, all you then need, is time to watch your skills develop by default. Change and progress is then a given. It definitely is as they say, ‘the most fun you can have with your clothes on!’
So, go on. It’s a simple choice really. Continue to believe you can’t draw a straight line, or realize the truth of the matter, nobody can draw a straight line and you’re probably just a bit nervous to try and maybe fail, but let’s face it, this is the way of all learning, the way of all success. What do they say, ‘There’s no such thing as failure, only temporary and unavoidable outcomes’?
So why not do what you really want to do. Gently nudge yourself towards a wee change of attitude, allow some much-needed self-compassion and who knows... you might get a ruler and just possibly, some nice toffee!
Pip Denham Oct. 2021