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The Arts Scene

An artist starving for worth

Caroline King
MSM Class of 2015

(8/2013) During my short time as a college student, I have faced several choices and, as with every choice, the challenges that accompany them. Some were bigger than others, like deciding what classes to take and if any class, no matter how interesting, was worth waking up at 8am. Some were smaller, like the day-to-day decisions of what to eat for dinner or what to wear, or if it seems socially acceptable to throw on sweatpants to go to class (in college it always is). But by far one of the most excruciating, self-esteem dropping, panic inducing decisions I have ever made was deciding to add Art to my English major and become a double major. Now, the hard part of it wasnít the double major in itself, the doubled amount of classwork, or the struggling to graduate on time with all my credits. No, what really was the kicker was the art in itself. Not choosing the classes, but actually making the artwork.

If you have ever tried to create a piece of art, or even do something as simple as paint your back door, the frustration of art is well known to you. Whether itís frantically trying to wipe the paint off the window glass of your back door, having accidently painted over the blue tape, or trying to focus your camera and not getting it the way you want, or even having your pencil break and ruin a sketch you were trying to make, the grueling process of trying to form the image in your head into a reality produces tears, frustrations, and the eventual, "I just canít do it." Any sort of artistic project can boil down to that idea of ineptitude. Itís a difficult process! And after several self-esteem shattering attempts in my art classes (made all the worse by comparing yourself to the people in the class around you), I was seriously contemplating why I had ever thought about taking this as a major, and wondering if art should even be in my future. At one point I decided to just let go and try understand that art is sometimes subjectiveóthings will turn out well some days and poorly others. It just depends on what you can get your hands to do. I would create a piece I could be pleased with about once every month or two and tried to be okay with that. Art was hard.

Given this factor, itís no surprise that artists like Picasso went through blue periods. It was draining! I was beginning to think that the term "starving artist" should be less to do with the money aspect and more to do with actually creating things, starving for a piece to come out the way they want it to, wanting it to be perfect. As more time passed, I contemplated giving up, for as much as I loved creating art, drawing, and painting, and how peaceful I usually found painting, well, art can be extremely draining. No matter what the benefits, youíll have at least one project that makes you want to pull your hair out. I was about two, maybe three days away from going bald last December, around Christmas break.

Frustrated, but unwilling to give up art, I had been given art assignments to work on over the break to continue with my art classes next semester. No matter what I did I couldnít get my pencil to create something that I thought was worth drawing; my hand refused to draw what I wanted it to create! Every line came out just slightly wrong, and in defeat I decided to postpone all artwork, and do it all the night before heading back to school. I figured it would be okay, since everything I was creating was completely awful anyway. It being rushed wouldnít make a difference. In this spirit of complete procrastination and, rolling my eyes that my fifteen-page Shakespeare paper was so much easier than any art homework Iíve ever had, I left to go to a family Christmas party.

It was there I learned the single most valuable lesson in art, and possibly just in life.

I have a large family; on my momís side alone I have 27 cousins, only three being older than 10. So it comes as no surprise that at one point during the Christmas party I was with three of my little cousins coloring and drawing pictures with them down in the basement. They were all little girls, ages ranging from three to seven, and we were doing the traditional little girl pictures: butterflies, flowers, all the colorful and pink decorations they loved. I remember at some point deciding to do a semi-serious cartoon doodle of the four of us, just to see if maybe Iíd come back into being able to draw. It turned out the crayon was a harder medium than I thought it would be, and I went to crumple up my paper before showing it to anyone, even these little girls, determined to make something better. But before I could, one of them casually looked over my arm to see what I was drawing and said with admiration and surprise, "Oh wow! Thatís really good!"

The way she said it made the difference. It wasnít the false, slightly high-pitched voice that older relatives use, trying to compliment you for a piece of art that they didnít quite understand. No, she stated it as if it were a simple unavoidable fact. The sky was blue, she had blonde hair, and I had drawn a really good piece of artwork. Her eyebrows were raised in mild shock before she turned around to finish scribbling in her rainbow made entirely in shades of pink. Her praise made the other two little girls turn around and look at what I had drawn as well. I got enthusiastic nods, smiles, and phrases like "Yeah! Wow that is really good!" I had never felt more genuinely complimented in my life. Sitting there, in a too tiny childís chair, holding a broken crayon, I learned a lesson. No matter how bad I thought my art was, there would be someone out there who appreciated it, someone who could see what I thought were flaws as something deliberate and beautiful.

No matter how much you believe youíve marred a canvas or piece of paper with what youíve put down, donít be discouraged. What you think is horrible, is amazing for another person. I imagine itís a bit like playing an instrument. The person playing it might miss a few notes and think theyíve done horribly or disgraced their very instrument. But to the audience, they hear a melodious tune and think the performer has done an amazing job. Itís much harder to see the worth of what youíre doing as the one doing it, than it is for someone observing you.

As an artist, no matter how much youíre struggling to get the image in your head onto paper and feeling like youíre failing, remember that people looking at your art never saw that picture in your head. They have no idea how much you might be deviating from your original intent. All they see is what youíve created. And there will always be someone out there who appreciates that, even if it is just your three younger cousins. Iíve always said draw art for yourself; create something purely because you want to do it. But when youíre getting discouraged, itís good to keep in mind that people will appreciate your art in ways you cannot. Weíre always our own harshest critics and that sometimes blinds us to see only the imperfections of what weíve created: the brushstroke thatís just slightly outside the line you wanted it to be, that tiny speck of paint that you couldnít wipe off the doorís glass. The mistakes no one else ever sees become the only thing we can see when we look at what weíve created.

It certainly makes staying positive about your art hard when your eyes immediately zoom into the one problem area and focus on the tiny flaw instead of the actual work as a whole. Sometimes your pencil or brush wonít work for you, and your hand will not draw what you want it to draw, but that doesnít mean what you create instead is worthless. Itís important to stay confident, push through your frustration, and know that in the end youíre going to create something that, even if youíre not sure is very good, will please someone else very much. Draw things you like, keep trying, and know that no art is worthless. And hey, if you are a struggling artist, and ever get a chance, be sure to draw with children. Thereís no experience to rival the amount of confidence it will give you as an artist. Itís a good reminder that everything you draw will speak to someone out there, and you can be a great role model at the same time. You are better at creating than you think. Isnít that a reminder we could all use from time to time?

Read other articles on the local arts scene by Caroline King