Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drawing and Painting

When do we stop thinking we can draw? When do we stop singing in public? When do we stop expressing our life in art? Why do I get responses like, "Really!?" when I tell people I paint, and that I show my paintings online and sell them... (I've discovered I have to throw in the "I sell them" part to get people to take it seriously.) I have learned that I need (for me) to stand up and say I'm an artist. I'm getting better at it - more fearless, more gleeful. But why is this so hard? What do I have to stay in practice (saying it)?! Why do people shudder if I suggest they try to draw?

I think everyone can draw.

Quit shaking your head. We all learn to write. We all make marks. We have characteristic handwriting. I'll quote Professor Hill from The Music Man : "Singing is just sustained talking." Drawing is just sustained writing. And I believe we all can and want to express ourselves this way. Some of us have deeply suppressed that desire.

Some of us have no choice (I'd feel like I'd lost my arms and hands if someone told me I could never draw or paint again). But most of us are embarrassed to try. Or we're afraid of the discouraging feeling we'll get when we can't draw immediately what we see. Discouraged. Embarrassed.

Actually, so am I. Regularly embarrassed to show my art to others because it isn't as good as I wanted or pictured it to be when I started. Why would I show people all my misses, even when they're near misses? "Look! The arrow is in the next circle out from the bull's eye! Do you know how hard it was to even get it into that ring instead of missing the target altogether?!" I don't think that's newsworthy.

But I think we're getting it wrong. Drawing is not about the end result on the paper - it's about seeing. It's about using more of your mind and some of your body to see something inside or outside of yourself. And drawings are also messages in bottles, sent from down deep to the surface. Art can be a communication from our lost child self to our adult self. The adult shouldn't edit or critique those messages - the adult needs to read them. They're personal.

And that implies two further things about drawing. First, it's not supposed to be a replica of reality - it's supposed to be a free interpretation made by a complex and simple inner self. The more free we can make that, the more satisfying the results, and the more complex the messages that can be conveyed. Like learning a language. And second, it's not necessarily supposed to be shared. It might be just for you.

But sometimes it's sharing the drawing that makes it breathe and gives it a greater existence, and that expanded existence might be what's needed for the message to get through. Through to the artist. Oh, it might reach other people, too, but that isn't the point.

It's not about whether it "works" or whether it's "good enough" or whether it's "realistic" or whether some part of it is "right" or "wrong." The best drawing is not the most realistic or professional - it's the most in touch with the inner workings of the artist.

And right there I think I touched on what makes it really hard to draw or paint. And maybe that's what we're afraid to do. I know I was for many years. I still hold back.

Can you open up and let your inner child play? Can you "Just draw"?

Everyone can draw. We just don't all want to (we don't all dare to). Some of us do it "prettier" and so it's not such a "dare" for us, but the pretty drawings are not the most important ones.

Drawing is about seeing.

Drawing is your inner child's chance to talk to you as an adult. You need those messages.

Drawing expands it's voice, breathes (like a bottle of wine) when it's shared. Find a friend you can trust.

Do it for you.

Lisa at That's Why wrote a daring post, a post that's already over the slippery slope, beyond "I can't draw," and into "Why not?" (That question is contiguous with her blog title...) As Randal commented, we're all going to keep after her now until she does it! I had wondered why she's so fascinated with the art of others. The Pagan Sphinx is another on my list. Many people who take photos look to me like the camera is a step toward a more radical tool, toward a more basic way to make images, toward making expressive marks. I wonder if people keep coming by the virtual studio because they're lured there by something inside themselves. I think we're lured by art the same way we're drawn into conversations as adults or toward play as children. We know we're meant to join in. We recognize that this is part of our kingdom. We're meant to live there.

So when you picture yourself creating images, what do you see in your hand? What kind of marks do you want to make? Pencil? Ink? Pen? Brush? Chalk? Do you want to sculpt, instead? What's keeping you from doing it?


linda said...

this is such a powerful and meaning-full post, i must come back and ponder it to give a decent comment BUT thank you for saying needs to be said by people like yourself, who make fabulous art and understand the struggle of standing up and owning IS hard, that part, it is natural however, to have self-expression..and it takes MANY forms, none more meaningful than others, although we give it that...

i don't have time...but i will come back...i am curious what others say to your words and hope you touched the hearts of those whose hearts need a little boost toward this goal.

Utah Savage said...

Gorgeous post and wonderful response to Lisa's post. I love the picture she posted in that piece of Garbo's work. You are so right in all of this. At the moment I'm taking photos and writing poetry. But I did love the energy that drawing and painting gave me. It was such a totally joyous and compelling feeling.

The paintings you've chosen to include in this post are wonderful. My favorite is the last.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve. First of all I want to let you know I got the CD cover - it's lovely - thanks a lot.

I really like your post. I have recently mentioned similar issues - espcially about being an artist. Have a look at my posts and tell me what you think: (here's the links):

Michelle said...

Great post Steve!

I ran a class for people who 'couldn't draw'...turned out they made some lovely art but still didn't believe it. Exhausting!

I too believe we all can, some of us just don't believe it.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Since you mentioned me, I'm a person who recognizes that I have a very creative side. I think creatively, I teach creatively and I have many, many ideas that I think are creative.

What I have always felt I lack is the technical ability to draw well. And to me, that is a huge part of what makes a compelling painter, which is what I would want to be if I could actually paint something good. I don't think you can be an even adequate painter and not know how to draw things.
My father could draw well. He never painted, though. He sketched and he created things with his hands. He was a craftsman with metal. Then again, my father could do just about everything well. My mother too is good at making things. She paints porcelain and paints decorative flower paintings on tile. Me, I love appreciating the art of others. Perhaps if I didn't look at so much good art, including yours, Steve, I might try my hand at painting.

But clay is where I truly feel creative without feeling the need to be perfect. That is the medium that helps to center me and allows me the satisfaction of the process over the outcome. I really must get back to that one day.

This is a great post, Steve. Alwaysa pleasure to visit here and see what you're working on and thinking about.

All the love,

Steve Emery said...

Linda - I totally agree about the many forms of self expression AND the idea that it's natural to create. Julia Cameron's book resonated with me for that reason.

Utah Savage - Interesting! That last painting is not one I have up for sale, I think, because I consider it a failure, of sorts. I lost control of the colors - they are so raw and intense and unmanageable. I posted it here, though, because it has more of my emotion in it than many. And it has been growing on me...

I hope you draw or paint again. I'd also love to see more of your visual art. I think your avatar is the only example I have - it's amazing, though. That and your intensity tell me your other images might also be powerful and unique.

Gypsy - I'm so glad you got it! Yours and one to Australia had the furthest to go. I need to get Lisa's packaged up, and Susan's was returned to me... I have to check her address.

I completely agree with your posts - and you need to speak up loud and clear about BEING an artist and a writer. It's who you ARE. It's how you choose to see the world, what you DO with it.

Michelle - What an interesting perspective on this... you can't make people believe. I think that's why I feel the urge to press Lisa and the Pagan Sphinx - because I think they might already believe or want to believe. Lisa did some drawing. The Pagan Sphinx mentions working in clay...

Gina - I often wonder what would happen if everyone were turned on to the simple secrets of drawing. Clay is a wonderful medium, and I hope you can get back to working with it. I still sense, though, a desire to paint! Drawing does have to be a foundation if you want to create the kinds of images you admire (so many of which are figurative). Maybe try the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." That's how I learned. I still "can't draw" on days when the right brain will not take control.

June Saville said...

Special images Steve ...

I agree that society should encourage everyone to draw.

You must look at my latest on 70 Plus. I've been foolhardy enough to post some little trifles I created with Microsoft's Windows Paint - that simple little programme which everyone can use.

Now people seem to be inspired, excited to try it for themselves. So much so that I've asked people to email me some of their 'works' with the understanding that I will 'hang' them in a gallery I'll create in my next post.

I've received one so far - we'll see how many others come through. How about contributing one yourself? Don't use up much of your precious time -
I've suggested we'll accept stick figures right through to Rembrandts.
June in Oz

Genie Sea said...

It is the fear that stops people from drawing. It is that vulnerability of putting our souls out there to be judged.

If someone comments my writing is messy, which it is, I just shrug and agree. I am not married to my writing. If someone said a scathing word about what I painted, I would take it more personally. I would even be wounded. Not any more. I learned to shrug at that too.

I learned that others' opinions are just that. Theirs. It does not have to be the same as mine.

Because, painting is a process. As you say, to get in touch with the inner child, or the bare soul.

But there is so much joy in creating, and when giving a chance adults who say they can't paint and sculpt and glue and cut like little kids. And it is so wonderful to see.

susan said...

Dear Steve,

Thanks for this very generous post both in the wonderful new pieces you've posted and your thoughts on expression as well. I agree with you. Since I hadn't been visiting much in the past few days I linked over to Lisa's brave post and left a few further thoughts:

Sorry it's taken me a day or two to make a return visit but I've been busy drawing and painting on silk again which tends to fill up my head and my time with more images than I can catch. That's the thing about drawing - one thing leads to another and it opens the inner eye of our being to the wonder of the world both seen and unseen. Most of us are afraid to venture there for personal visions are very telling to ourselves at least if nobody else. We've been trained since childhood ended that only particular ways of seeing are acceptable and valid in the cultural milieu we inhabit. We've been overrun by professionals in every medium and advertising certainly has taken a toll on what people find acceptable as artistic expression.

All of humanity's artwork, whether painting, sculpture or music, was spiritual in nature. It was our way of conveying to ourselves and one another our deep appreciation for the beauty and grace that is life. At its best that is still true but inhabiting a post Darwinist society has increasingly complicated our inner world. The darkness needs light so we can discern the meaning of the shadows.

All the best on this beautiful Sunday morning.

Steve Emery said...

June - that is a tempting offer! Let's see what happens. And I need to come see what you've done yourself.

Genie Sea - So right - we have a harder time toughening up our hide for criticism of art (handwriting is less of a problem). And we all owe it to ourselves because there can be so much fun and joy in the discovery.

Susan - And yet... (continuing from the comment above, to Genie Sea) there is risk, too. As you say, the self discovery can be difficult, and not everyone is ready for it. And I agree completely about the impact of advertising. I've felt that personally, especially when I was in art school.

I need to come visit and see what images are coming out on your silk.

Lisa said...

I loved this post because you describe exactly that fear of finally having confirmation that I have no talent. I think it's why don't submit pieces to be published, as well. Thinking that I could is different from knowing that someone has told me no.

I realize that's a harsh interpretation for a rejection, for example, but as long as I never show anyone the bubble, they can't burst it.

Soon. Just like I've learned to write for others, I will show my drawings too.

Thank you for this post.

Steve Emery said...

Lisa - you are so welcome. And just because someone doesn't think you're good means nothing. Nothing. Even if LOTS of people think you aren't good it still means nothing. Vincent Van Gogh is the classic example - one painting sold in his entire life, and that to his brother Theo.

We're all meant to express ourselves - and if we do that with sufficient honesty and keep showing up to do it more, it will turn into something powerful.

Your writing is already exhibiting this power and grace regularly. There are lots of posts where I read it with a grin on my face, enjoying the quality of the writing - the ingenious way you put it over, or put it together. Drawing may not be as easy for you at first - maybe it will never catch up to writing as an outlet for you (you may never be so fluent with images as you are with words) but so what?

I guess the important thing is to do what moves us - and if we do it with sufficient honesty and chutzpah, it will move others. And that's what makes it art.

Karen A said...

I will speak to a non-artist point of view. I would not say that I'm afraid of how my art would look to others, although I am inhibited about that sort of thing in general. I can genuinely say that I have no interest in creating art. Where others might see opportunity in blank paper, I would see nothing, feel nothing. It would not even be enjoyable to me to come up with something to put on it. So I might represent the person who is fascinated by artists/musicians, etc. because they represent a personality quite different from mine. But I'm fascinated without having even a lurking desire to join in.

Steve Emery said...

Karen - I guess I can say the same thing about team sports. No desire at all to join in. But I also don't have much desire to watch...

I appreciate what they're doing, and the value of the teamwork, the power of some of the events or milestones and records, but that's about it.

Different personalities.