It’s not that I have stopped listening to the voice in my head that tells me I can’t do something. I have decided to take it head on. Usually it’s my own voice that tells me that, or excuses what I have done, labelling it as a poor effort. I meet with a group of artists and we find ways to express deep truths from the Bible through art. It’s always a challenge. I tend to dismiss the “oohs” and “aahs” when I present the finished picture, and I’m swift to say that it’s not that good, and if I had a little more skill, it would be better. The perspective is off or the drawing of the man is clumsy at best – I have already lined up the faults ready to be trooped out like a line of shoddy soldiers when the general comes to visit unexpectedly. I’m too competitive to remember that it’s just a bit of fun.I was showing one of my pictures to a friend. It as one of the “better” ones. I was about the list what was wrong with it when it felt like someone put a hand over my mouth. It wasn’t her. It wasn’t me. It was “someone”. Not a physical someone at all
“If you can’t draw…learn!” said God.
I like painting a lot. My art teacher at school convinced me that I couldn’t paint. In those days there was nothing experimental about art. You couldn’t fling paint at the canvas, scrape at it with a butter knife and call it art. It had to look like something.
When I retired, I joined an art class. I didn’t expect the Picasso in me to show up, and he didn’t. There was no expectation that everything was still life. We painted lemons once simply to play at shading. Painting woke me up colour and texture. I looked at clouds and though “I could paint that!” and I did. I almost wept at the beauty of autumn landscapes. Just as I have bookcases full of poetry books, now it seemed I had boxes of art materials and a cleared kitchen table. I did homework.
There are a lot of classes for all sorts of things on Facebook right now. In lockdown there were things offered for free to make use of those long hours of the day when you weren’t supposed to go outside. A tempting one was “Tree Bathing”, the Japanese notion that getting close to trees is good for your mental health. I’d have to go outside for that one. There are no trees inside. Another one was “How to Forage.” I have been scouting the bushes ready to pounce on the blackberries. Down by the fence there are magnificent mushrooms or toadstools – big and blousy. I’d rather not poison myself and knowing what is edible and what isn’t would be helpful. Not grubs and insects – they may be edible and a good source of protein, and it might be useful if things go all dystopian. Foraging? Another going outside thing.
There is was. Learn to draw a portrait. One hour on a Sunday afternoon. A webinar. An expert and a charcoal pencil. A picture of an old lady. The voice in my head echoing “If you can’t draw…Learn!”
I signed up.
There was a box involved, and lines and an ear placed just there. Nose and chin, glasses and cheekbones, eyes and shading all unfolded quietly. She explained it all as she went. It reminded me of Home Economics classes, except I was never any good at cooking. My lines began to look like a person. A bit of shading here and there, a gentle rubbing with an eraser here and there and I drew a portrait.
Sometimes it seems to be our default position to say “I can’t do that.” Sometimes it comes after a whole lot of time and effort and mistakes. Mostly we don’t try at all. There are things we genuinely can’t do. I will never perform brain surgery. Sometimes “can’t do” is really “won’t do” and we dig our heels in. Sometimes “can’t do” is really “what if I fail?”
What if you don’t? What if by choosing to give it a miss you never discover, not how good you are at it but how much enjoyment you get? Just as my first foray into painting opened up a vibrant world of colour I never noticed before, maybe drawing portraits will make me look more carefully at people and appreciate the character expressed in a face. Who knows where that journey will take me?
I’m changing my default position. When the “can’t do”s ride into town, like bank robbers in a spaghetti western, I will say to them