When you were at school, I bet there was some kid in your class who was absolutely fantastic at art. Can you remember who that was? Maybe there was more than one of them? But I bet there was someone who could make a still-life drawing of a shrunken pigmy head look not only effortless but also super cool. They would be the ones who had the art teacher quivering with ecstasy. For They were blessed with being a Gifted Artist and that meant that They were automatically enrolled into a very special club of mysteriousness and beauty, leaving the rest of us pressing our grimy, unworthy faces against the window, yearning to be accepted into this elite, vibrant world of richness and wonder, but banished out into the cold – pathetic and contemptible, pitifully clutching a handful of broken crayons and some balsa wood.
Now it might be that YOU are that Gifted Artist person. In which case GO ON, GET OUT. I’m joking of course! You are the one that we all wanted to be! We Oooh’d at your water colour of ‘Sunset over the Bahamas‘ and Aaah’d at your sculpture of ‘My Father, My Rock‘ but we hated you. And slagged you off behind your back. And secretly yearned for your artistic talent and fabulousness.
I may be being too presumptuous here. Some of you will have genuinely hated art and felt almost sick with fear at the prospect of batik first thing on a Monday morning. You will have been longing for afternoon double maths and to be answering questions like:
If , what is f when u = 12.5 and v = 7.5?
But I’ll crack on with being too presumptious.
I remember very well who They were at my school…. I also remember that I loved art lessons (or art and craft lessons as they were then) apart from the slightly freaky teachers that we had – a married couple who were more than a little bit eccentric. He was a smock-wearing sarcastic Bernard Bresslaw from the Carry On films and she was a head-band wearing Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers complete with a venomous sneer.
Week after week, year after miserable year I looked forward to those art lessons, forever aware that I was not a Gifted Artist by their standards and could never impress them very much at all.
BUT…….I found, as I grew older that actually I’m not half bad at arty stuff. More importantly, I really enjoy it. It’s a passion. One of my previous jobs was as an art / craft workshop tutor, teaching children and families. It centred mainly around scrap / junk modelling but incorporated all kinds of materials and mediums. The children were of the ages where doubt about their own ability had never entered their lovely young minds, but the attitude of the parents was something else.
I purposely encouraged parents to participate because the sessions were very much about working with their kids and positive interaction. But I would say that 80% of the parents that I engaged with would say to me at some point, that they were no good at art, that they had no creative skills, and that they hadn’t touched anything art wise since leaving school.
I would probe a little when I had these reactions, and not once did I hear any of them say that it was because they hated art. No, it was pretty much always because of their experiences at school – they had been the ones who didn’t show any ‘obvious flair’. Like me, they had enjoyed the lessons but had never ‘excelled’. Their work was never showcased in the school corridors nor were they considered to be exceptional or outstanding – at least, not in the eyes of those particular teachers….. And they could also remember the ones who shone like bright lights in art lessons.
The problem with art is that it’s just too bloody visible! Along with sports and drama, art in school is one of those subjects where your ability is clearly on display to all and sundry. At least if you’re crap at French, you get put in a group with similarly Crap at French peers so you can all be crap together, trying to converse with each other through role play that to order a white coffee you’ve got to swim down the escalator and then turn left into pair of pyjamas. And if you’re crap at Physics, you can generally hide it in your homework without it being really very obvious to peers until you misjudge the point of equilibrium rocking back on your lab stool and end up knocking a passing friend’s teeth out. But class based art? No. If each individual in the entire class is told to sketch a bowl of bananas, it is going to become very apparent to all who is the Gifted Artist and who isn’t.
But what actually defines a ‘Gifted Artist’?
I had a discussion recently with one of my nearest and dearest who also considers themselves not to be ‘arty’. They would love to be able to paint or sketch or draw cartoons. But they are so lacking in confidence in their own style (and which is what they perceive to be that makes them any good) that they can barely muster enough morale to lift a pencil.
I have debated with them, the concept of ‘style’. Who exactly has the ideal, correct artistic style? Monet? Banksy? David Shrigley? Dali? Of course it goes without saying that there is no such thing; for where would we be without a world of individual and diverse artistic styles? And this isn’t really about commercial value – defining what makes art commercially successful needs another dozen or so blog posts.
I love mixed media and textiles. Drawing isn’t really my thing but if I did love it, I would do it regardless. In a couple of seconds, you’re going to be thinking that you’re quite glad I don’t love it. But I don’t care what you think. So here is an example of my drawing style:
The point is, that creating our own unique expression is what truly matters. That and the immense pleasure we can derive from producing our own art, using whichever medium tickles our fancy. So come on you lot – dig out your paints, dust off your sewing machines and do it. If you loved it once, the chances are, you still do.