I am currently reading a book entitled Art and Fear and in it one of
the authors shares a conversation he once had with his daughter. She asked what
he did and, when he explained that he worked at the university, teaching people
how to draw, she was appalled. She couldn't conceive of having forgotten how
to draw in the first place.
(Before anyone asks, this is a good book if you're willing to follow the old
advice about eating the meat and spitting out the bones. Christians may be bothered
by certain things.)
seems that every child has a natural desire to draw, but somewhere along the
way most seem to lose that desire. I'm not so sure we forget how to draw as
much as we're trained out of it. Perhaps it results from seeing the art teacher
use your house-sized snowman as an example of poor proportion. Or maybe it's
once again hearing a gushing, "You have so much talent!" spoken to
the artist standing next to you.
The T word, talent, is what does in most people, I think. I certainly fell
at its feet. As a preteen I didn't want to just do anything. If I had
talent for a thing, I would gladly invest myself into it. If I (supposedly)
did not have talent in an area, I chose not to "waste" my time. Unfortunately,
I lived most of my life that way. And then I befriended Anna, an artist. . .and
dared to confide in her.
had always wanted to draw - always. My cat picture made it to the classroom
wall when I was in third grade and my Snoopy cartoons amused the nurses well
enough when I spent ten days in the hospital as a fifth grader. These inspired
seemingly false hope, however, and I began to realize that I really didn't have
any drawing talent when my sixth grade art teacher, noting that snowmen do not
grow as tall as houses, pointed out this and other flaws in my composition.
I honestly don't remember drawing anything beyond doodles after the year I `realized'
I had no talent.
But I never lost the "I wish". I still wanted to drawn even though
I knew in my heart of hearts that it just wasn't in me. I don't know how many
conversations Anna and I had on the topic, but it took redundancy, her essentially
repeating herself several times in various ways, before she spoke the words
that put the first chink in the wall I'd built between me and art. "TC,"
she said, "drawing doesn't have anywhere near as much to do with talent
as it does with learning to see."
This was a completely foreign concept to me, and a statement that caught my
attention firmly enough that I really started listening to what she was saying.
According to her, my foundational belief about art - that you either had talent
or you didn't - was false. Drawing, she explained, was an art governed by rules
and techniques and anyone who was willing to first learn to really see
what they wanted to draw, and then to practice using the necessary techniques,
could become an artist; talent didn't really have that much to do with it.
I spent a lot of time pondering her words and, in the end, it was my own `talent'
that convinced me she was right. "You have such a talent for writing!"
they would tell me. But. . .how do you define talent? Did I, the day I first
learned to form my As, Bs and Cs, suddenly acquire an extraordinary ability
to write well? Er. . .no, and I have a collection of early writings to prove
it. Rather, I read voraciously anything I could get my hands on and wrote wrote
wrote because the writing was in me and had to get out. I would say that in
my case the quality of the writing was not so much a result of talent as passion
- because I was passionate about my pursuit, I actively strove to improve myself.
The question is might the same thing have happened in the area of art if a certain
teacher had chosen private instruction over public humiliation? I don't know
I'd best interject one thing before someone trounces me; I do believe talent
exists. My oldest son obviously has musical talent; there is no way he could
have taught himself to play the guitar as swiftly and well as he did unless
he does, indeed, possess a God-given talent for it. My point is that I have
come to understand that talent is not a prerequisite for artistic success. Passion
and persistence, together, will take almost anyone just about anywhere they
really want to go.
And to go on with my story. . .
Anna eventually convinced me to invest in a copy of Drawing on the Right
Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, a sketch pad, three drawing pencils
and a kneaded eraser. The results astounded me. I'd only made it a few pages
into the book before I drew a picture of one of my sneakers. . .and it was good!
I'm not sure, but it's possible that I got so excited that I called her long
distance to share my joy.
I suddenly understood what she meant about the importance of learning to see.
The average person looks at the sneaker on the floor and sees a shoe. The artist
looks at the sneaker on the floor and sees a shoe. Different artists
describe it in a variety of ways - positive and negative space, light and shadows,
etc. -but the bottom line is that the artist learns to look at a thing and see
it in detail. She notices the light reflecting off the eyelets and the tips
of the laces, the creases that mar the toe and the fraying of the sewn-on trim.
She is able to break the item down into its parts and draw those parts. And,
in reproducing details the average person never even notices, she produces a
drawing that clearly is the item it represents. The key, then, to becoming a
skilled pencil artist lies in learning to see and reproduce those details. And
you know what that means.
It means YOU could do it if you wanted to. It means your son could do it, or
your daughter. It means that anyone willing to step out and invest his self
and his time has the potential to become an artist.
A while back I decided it was high time I got serious about my art, or as serious
as I could with my active-church-goer/homeschooling mother/editor schedule.
I was ready to attempt portraiture and asked my artist friend for book suggestions.
She gave me one: Lee Hammond's How to Draw Lifelike Portraits from Photographs.
It was exactly what I needed. The skills it taught me, and still teaches me,
have improved my pencil portraits so greatly that I now take commissions. They're
few, because I still have that same heavy schedule, but they're genuine commissions
that pay money and people now call me an artist. "You have so much talent!"
they say. They get terribly confused when I try to explain that talent has little
to do with it.
Learning to truly see the things I draw has also enabled me to see both myself
and the world I live in differently. First, I have a much greater appreciation
of the wonder of God's creation. Someone once laughed at me for admiring lichen
on rock, but it was astoundingly beautiful. Second, my shift from "Oh no,
I can't draw a straight line," to "Yes, I'm an artist" has resulted
in another shift as well. I could explain it theologically, I suppose, but the
bottom line is that if this is possible, if someone with absolutely no
drawing talent can become a working artist, then anything is possible for me
if I believe. I consider both of these to be gifts as great as the gift of learning
if you are a would-be artist, set your fears aside and take the plunge. If you
have an aspiring artist in your home, encourage them in every way you can. I
promise you, there are very few people in the world who can't become the artist
they dream of being.
To help you in your artist endeavors, I've gathered a collection of reviews
of a variety of art resources. Some are on drawing. Some are on art in general.
There's even a book in here that will help you market your artwork when the
time is right. Only one or two are geared toward children, I'm afraid; most
would be appropriate for the dedicated middle schooler and up. As is true in
so many things, the teaching parent (or older sibling) would need to study first,
and then teach a younger child, but think of it this way - the teacher may end
up being told, "You have such talent!" as well.