It’s Not Automatic – Deserving To Do Art


From a young age I feel I have always been given the message that if you’re not good at something, you shouldn’t do it.You are only ‘allowed’ to pursue something if you’re already magically good at it. Kids who are good at drawing should keep drawing. Kids who are not good at drawing shouldn’t bother.

We say things like: “Oh I can’t draw” or “I will never be good at painting” or “So and so is much better than me”. You didn’t wake up one day speaking your native language the way you do today. You learned over time. It was most likely an automatic process that you didn’t notice, but it took TIME and you were LEARNING. However, when it comes to anything creative, it’s as if we feel that the ‘talented’ are deserving of pursuing their art, but the ‘untalented’ are not.

deserving-to-do-art-quoteA friend of mine in primary school loved drawing. She was ‘good at drawing’. I put that in inverted commas, not because she wasn’t, but because it’s a problematic label. She drew a lot and consequently was ‘better at drawing’ than many of the other kids. She got a lot of praise for being good at drawing and I compared my drawings to hers and felt disappointed and why should I bother as I wasn’t as ‘good’ as her.

As an adult she’s a rather accomplished artist now. I love her art. It is very rich and technically detailed. She didn’t wake up as a 28-year-old who could suddenly create amazing art. If she had stopped doing art as a little girl and picked up a pencil now, she wouldn’t be creating what she is right now. She’s had a lifetime of practice.

The above example shows how incredibly logical it is that you need practice to get better, and yet we tell ourselves we are not talented enough or not good enough as a reason not to do it!!

On the parenting forums/blogs I read there definitely seems to be a trend towards praising the effort rather than the result. It’s the approach I cognitively believe in and is how I’m raising my kids. And yet… that message from my childhood runs deep. It runs deep in my thinking, and I can see it runs deep in a lot of other people’s thinking as well. These wounds created in childhood are hard to heal!!

When I think back to my childhood I can think of a handful of things that happened that stopped the creative soul inside me in its tracks. My teacher laughing at a drawing I did. My mother telling me I needed more practice when I showed her a painting I’d done (not a horrible thing to say in itself, but that was the only comment). I think every child encounters these types of moments but the importance lies in how these moments are handled. How can a child be encouraged to move past these painful roadblocks? Hopefully not like me, with the decision that I shouldn’t bother drawing or painting.

I feel resentment because of these things that happened to me as a child. As a child you don’t have the life experience or emotional maturity to put things in perspective, ignore the haters or question the validity of a statement/opinion. Especially when the voices are those we trust (parents, teachers) to tell us ‘the truth’. I feel sadness for my child self and what I went through and the consequences that spill over into my adult life. It is very very hard to unlearn the patterns of thinking we learned as a child.

However, and this is the big turning point, as an adult I now do have the benefit of life experience and emotional maturity (ish *grin*) to start doing something about this. I can’t turn back the clock and undo the scars, but I can think to myself ‘Hey, those people so long ago, they don’t need to dictate my thinking in the present’. I can tell myself this every day, and believe me, I need to, in order to quieten those voices in my head that tell me I don’t deserve to do art because it’s not inherently ‘good enough’ or I’m not inherently ‘talented enough’.

I have the power to choose to do this and I empower myself by deciding to create art despite the emotional obstacles and negative voices in my head. Every time I decide to do something creative I am not just ‘getting better’ in a technical sense (i.e. by practicing), I am also growing as a person. I am recognising that I myself hold the power to start to heal my own wounds.

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  1. gave me goosebumps reading this! pls share in the Life Book group if you want. awesome. awesome!!

    • Tam: Yay for goosebumps! And thank you for sharing it. It’s like, I cognitively know that other people feel the same way, but I’m always kind of surprised when I see these feelings mirrored in others. Kind of like, wow, not alone!

      Shelly: Thanks for letting me know this resonated with you! And yay for starting to feel worthy enough, you SO are!

  2. Shelly Marlott says:

    Iris thank you for this… I’ve got degrees in art and I am just now creating art and feeling worthy enough at 37!! Thank you thank you for putting in to words how I feel!

  3. Awesome article, Iris! That resonated a lot with me! Case in point, I’ve always been “creative”, good at crafts and such, but I never considered myself talented enough to draw. Stick figures, maybe, but not a lot beyond that!
    Much like you, I was always taught that drawing/painting wasn’t really my forte (and much worse,) from early on.
    Until somewhat recently I determined that I would put the time, effort and practice in the thing I can’t supposedly do, because I really liked doing it, even though I didn’t like the rampant inner critic about the end result, but oh well.

    And now when people tell me that I am “so talented” I want to shout from the roof tops, that really the only thing that changed, is that I followed the whispers/joy, practiced, learned, and practice some more!

    • Birgit: I so know what you mean with what you say about the ‘so talented’ label. Like Tam always says, all this stuff can be learned! And even a positive label (or a compliment) can sometimes hold you back, like it describes an irrefutable fact: you either ARE NOT talented (so don’t bother), or you ARE talented (but what if I fail, what if the next thing I do shows that I’m not really talented at all). Yay for putting in the time & practice! I’ve found that my inner critic is actually quieter these days now that I’m doing art a lot!

  4. This is an excellent post. I can relate to every word. As a child I loved to draw and color, I spent many hours in my room drawing and creating. I taught myself to knit at 18 and wad so proud. I made a blanket for a doll bed I made out of a shoe box with pillow, sheet, etc. this was for a doll giveaway we had each year at work. The dolls were dressed and given to needy little girls. I decided that the child would need more than a doll to play with, hence the doll bed. While they were on display people laughed at my bed and little pink blanket, I stopped trying to knit, draw create….everything. I was very sad. In the past 4 years I have felt drawn to creativity once again. It is still very hard not to compare myself with others, but I am still trying. Thank you so much for sharing it really helped me.

  5. You are right on the money! I’m 66 and just now allowing myself the opportunity to explore the artistic urges that have been hidden inside. I have worked all my life in the fashion, sewing, quilting, publishing industries but haven’t picked up a pencil to draw or a paintbrush to paint since I was very young child. “I’m not an artist. I can’t draw” came from my mouth so many times that I believed it. Art wasn’t encouraged or appreciated in my schooling and besides, if I couldn’t “do it right” I wouldn’t even try! True, I worked in very creative professions and now I design quilts and tote bag patterns to sell online, but it wasn’t until recently that I truly felt creative. Writing, sewing, designing patchwork (geometric) quilts is pretty left-brained. A class with Christy Tomlinson in early 2012 and now Lifebook has freed my little girl and my big girl artist and I am so very grateful! Carla Sonheim’s exercises really freed the child to explore and take joy in work that was not “perfect.” I’m not striving for perfection now, just JOY!

    • Glenda: It makes me feel so sad on your behalf to hear how you were laughed at. We are so sensitive and vulnerable and something like that can be so influential in how we view ourselves and what we do. I’m glad you’re creating again!

      Barbara: I so know where you’re coming from! I’ve done a lot of crocheting and before I developed RSI I was an avid cross-stitcher. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating something with your hands but with the safety of a pattern to fall back on. Nothing compared to the JOY of painting or drawing from the imagination though, but that takes much more guts! I love how you mention your ‘little girl and big girl artist’, that’s great imagery right there.

  6. Andrew Husb says:

    So honest and insightful Iris! Wow one is very impressed and inspired by one’s wife. Truly!

  7. Hi Iris, your blog posts are very deep and thoughtful, and your art is LOVELY!! I can feel your passion for art. :)

    • Thank you Maria! I’m glad you can feel my passion for art, it’s something I’ve been too afraid to share for a long time and I’ve only just started. I really appreciate your support!

  8. Reading your post, Iris, was like seeing myself in the mirror. And truly, it is up to us to heal ourselves from the scars that other people, especially the ones close to us, have created. If we dwell on the past and not move on, we will only validate what they have told us. I guess it comes with age and experience when learn to be comfident in our own skin and just do whatever it is that fuels our soul. As I type this, I thought maybe it would be best for us parents to teach our kids these things so that they will be better at handling the scars and possibly heal earlier than most of us should they encounter such experiences. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You have excellent writing skills that, as a reader, I can feel your sincerity in every word. ????

  9. Thank you so much Iris, for sending me the link to this post. I have read it with so much joy. I think it is because I also can recognise myself a lot in what you have written. We see other talented artists and then feel that we cannot ourselves claim the tittle of artist. Even though everyone that creates something is an artist. I love how you said: don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. You are so right that it is a skill that can be learned by anyone. Even though all the words you say are so right about that we have the power to change our thoughts and empower ourselves and believe in ourselves. For some reason it is still difficult to bring into practice. The inner critic in us is so strong. But bit by bit every day just giving it a go and with each others support we can all do it. Happy creating everyone!
    Angelique recently posted…Water colour flowersMy Profile

    • Exactly Angelique, it is SO HARD to put into practice! It’s an ongoing, daily journey. A constant reminding ourselves (and forgetting again, and then reminding again) that we ARE worthy and deserving and allowed to express ourselves in our own unique way. Glad you’re on a similar journey too, we can keep reminding each other!!

  10. Yes, how it did resonate with me and then some memories, too. When I was 10 (54 now) my art teacher shared a painting with my folks that I did and told them that they should encourage my art. What did they do? They discouraged it in any way except to make gifts for others so I was in my 40’s (I think) before I ever made anything for myself. They drummed into me that being an artist was not a viable vocation (this was 1970). My mother taught piano for 30+ years, too, so I took piano lessons for 11 years even though I wanted to learn the flute…no, I had to put my attention onto the piano. When I was 30, my husband took me to a Mary Cassatt exhibit at the Chicago art Institute and I found myself in tears as I ran across the room to see a Renoir that I had liked previously. I was in shock at how passionate I was about art. Yet after furniture refinishing & faux painting houses through the whole of the 90’s, it took me being put down…sick, in bed for 2+ years, disabled from the world…I could no longer call myself a transcriptionist (or a Paramedic that I was preparing to go back to school for) but I could delve into art (as an artist penpal encouraged & I felt inspired by God) and be called an artist. So, by the age of 44 I sold my first piece. And at 47 (I think) I also discovered that I had a gift for writing and published my first book by the time I was 48. I think your writing was hitting the nail on the head aside from verbal abuse in my teens too telling me that I could never do anything right. I still fight that some even though I learned to finally put down that invisible baseball bat that I carried around about the same time that I was published! (check out my blog if you’d like). I am reading and delving into more that you share and excited to move forward! I have painted one girl with purple hair but it was very much like coming out of my comfort zone (hair isn’t purple!). Thank you!

    • Wow Juliana, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. Reading what you’ve been through made me feel really sad, but I’m so amazed and inspired by how you came through this and found your true path as an artist despite the pressure to deny that path. I’m trying very hard with my kids to let them tell me what’s important to them, and let that be enough and wonderful in itself, rather than pushing my own views on them. It’s hard but very worthwhile. I’m going to check out your blog!

      • Hi! Thanks for your reply. Lol, if you only knew…there’s so much more! I hesitate to go into it here because I told you I’m a writer didn’t i? I share about much in my blog!

        You have given me many good pointers. I am working through your free booklet right now. Page 9 I think I’m on. I think I’m seeing that journaling is needed. I do my best writing in the early hours before my husband or most of the world is awake. I can write myself into wisdom! Disciplining myself to do it is always tough!

        Low battery on my iPad or would say more! Thank you again!

  11. Dear Iris, I’m sure there are many people feeling exactly like you! Unfortunately, it seems like most of us grow with the thought in mind that “if we’re not good at something artistic, we shouldn’t bother trying it, as we will never be good enough!”. At least this is how I have grown up, and the saddest thing is that there weren’t my parents or a teacher (at least as far as I remember!) that put me in this way of thinking, but myself! As a child, I was growing with a mother that had a “natural way” with paintings and with a girlfriend and classmate that was way tooo talented and artistic! Thus, it was inevitable to compare my “artistic” skills with theirs and as I wasn’t even close to them, I believed that I shouldn’t try anymore as I would never be good enough. Another thing that played crusial role to this matter is that, when I was a child, there wasn’t any special class or workshop or seminar or something to participate as a child in order to learn how to develop your artistic skills and get a bit more confident about yourself. There were only some private classes that you could follow at the age of 16-17 in order to enter the School of Arts after finishing high-school, but you had to have an inherent talent to pursue entering the School of Arts!
    What a vicious circle! Now, after many many years of doing nothing artistic, I’m trying to find my way into crafts and “art”, and it makes me so happy when I create something beautiful, and at the same time so afraid of making ugly things or not being good enough…!
    Melfina recently posted…Proud for…!My Profile

    • I know what you mean! I think we are always our own harshest critic. It’s so hard to step up and say: I DESERVE this (practising, making art even if you’re not as skilled as someone else, taking a class). I’m so glad you’re making art now, it’s really brave!

  12. Thank you so much for this…it sincerely touched me and helped me see that I’m not alone in what I’ve felt so many, many times!! So true, and so helpful! Thank you very much! <3

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