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. πŸ™‚

    • 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

  13. Dear Iris,
    I found my way to your blog while doing a Google search for “learning to draw”, “practice techniques to help you learn to draw”, amongst other wordy desperate pleas trying to teach myself something I have longed to do since I was a very little child.

    At 45 and a stay at home mom to a 12 year old and 24 year old, my free time is opening up and I am longing to “find out who I am”… Not the wife to Dennis or Ash & Cam’s mom. Through the years since I married at 19, I have attempted to learn to draw and paint. But every single time I would fall in love with the feel of lead, charcoal, water colors, and paint dancing across a blank canvas, someone in my life would “remind” me that I should just enjoy being a wife and mother because that is where my “true gifts” lie. Not in any form of art…

    It was acceptable for me to make scrapbooks because they weren’t art, just photos and words used to occupy my time while my kids grew up. Although to me each page was a canvas with a visual story to tell through layers of chipboard, paint, ink, fiber, and embellishments…

    I now suffer from polyneuropathy, diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and fibromyalgia. The polyneuropathy is killing the nerves in my body from my extremities inward. It started in my hands and feet and has now traveled to my knees, elbows, and is already attacking part of my spine. It hurts all the time, every single day of my life. I am able to function thanks to constant pain medication delivered through my skin in a patch form and oral pain meds as well. Otherwise I would lose my mind as the pain is completely unbearable. It feel like my skin is being shorn off and the open flesh scrubbed with a wire brush. It has led me to reevaluate what is truly important to me and what I wish to do with my time on this Earth.

    No more will I allow someone to stop me from doing something I truly love and want to do. So I am going to create the art I have so dreamed of doing all my life…

    I do not have all the right materials, pens, markers, paints, pencils and such. My medical bills are horrific but I choose to live as long as I can and that means doctors, prescriptions, and money to pay them. As well as raising a 12 year old boy who is the light of my life (my beautiful 24 year old daughter as well,), food, and living expenses. I am blessed with a kind and wonderful husband who bears all the income earning responsibilities that allows me to be with our children and care for this body that is betraying me. So, you see I can not afford much in the line of the beautiful supplies needed. But I am not going to let that stop me either, nor the “negative nellies” that are in my life.

    This I am doing for me. For my heart… And for my soul…

    Your post truly touched me in a personal way and has strengthened my resolve to learn… Thank you SO VERY MUCH for this gift. It truly means the world to me…?

    • Tammy, thank you so much for your honest words. They brought tears to my eyes. I’m so pleased for you and proud of you that you are taking this step. Don’t worry too much about the art supplies you ‘need’, all you need for expression is a mark making tool (even just a pen or pencil is fine) and you can add things as you go. Big hugs! <3

  14. Katherine Hambley says:

    I read your article and while I agree with most of it, after reading most of the comments on here, most people can’t afford the supplies needed. It’s not a matter of feeling worthy or having the desire, it’s a matter of economics, and that’s where my frustration comes in. I see all these art journaling sites that want you to sign up with them and give them money and then spend some more money that I don’t have on supplies that I end up wasting because I don’t know what I’m doing and I have no hope of selling it or making money with my art. To say that “I am just doing this for me” I believe is selfish and not realistic when you have mortgages, kids, people depending on you. Again, I appreciate where you are coming from, but to blame our childhood and parents for our own insecurities is a cop-out and not taking responsibility for your own life. I believe that art is a luxury, just like make-up, jewelry, and getting my nails done. If I have the extra to spend (and sometimes when I don’t) I’ll buy some supplies, but bills come first, and there is never enough. I don’t agree with tugging on the heart strings and appealing to people’s emotions is really ethical or fair. You’d make a great marketing person, that’s what advertising is all about.

    • Hi Katherine, thank you for your interesting and thought provoking comment. I think we will just have to agree to disagree here. It sounds like you feel triggered around any assertion that one can do something simply for the pleasure of doing it (and even feel a NEED to do it, even if there is no responsibility attached to it i.e. mortgage, kids etc). Personally I feel that pursuing those things that make us us is absolutely important. That might be a priviliged position to be speaking from (because of course there are people who simply DON’T have time or money for any personal time or hobbies), but not enjoying things or feeling guilty simply because there are other people who have it worse is not actually effective at all and just adds misery to the world. As you may have read in another comment, I mention that being creative doesn’t require any fancy supplies, a pencil and paper is enough. I have found that for MOST people, citing money as something that stands in the way is simply a way of avoiding (or legitimizing) the emotional blocks that stand in the way. Everybody has childhood scars and they are there, an attitude of you’re not allowed to trace where things come from doesn’t actually help you get past things. We gotta feel the pain to get through it, rather than ignore it. I also think it’s important to address that a lot of people who are asking you to sign up for this and that are actually making their livelihood from this. When I sell an art course I get to put food on the table. I think it is absolutely beautiful that I can earn money from something that I love doing (and share it with other people who love it too). A very very large part of this ‘art journaling industry’ is self-made people who love what they do. Appealing to people’s emotions is exactly what I do, because making art (and art being part of my livelihood and providing for my family) is deeply emotional to me.

      • Katherine says:

        Well, I’m glad your happy doing what you do, we’ll let you sit in your room and play with your crayons while the rest of us go to work. What good ever came of looking for someone to blame for our, how did you put it, “pain”? I’m glad you get to make a living doing what you love to do, taking advantage of other people’s emotional crisis. In my experience, people tend to be their own worst enemy and don’t want to fess up to the fact that a lot of their pain is self-inflicted. It seems to be a running topic nowadays, no one wants to take responsibility for what they do, “Oh, my parents told me I wasn’t good enough when I was a kid, so that’s why I ran up credit cards, lost my job, my house, and my kids, because of my parents” Really? At what point, do people grow up and quit trying to “find themselves” and get to work? When do people actually earn what they get by working hard and not trying to swindle people out of their money? That’s all I’m saying, your article seem very one-sided to me, and I challenged you to think about it another way. I hope you can handle it. Maybe you’ll figure it out in that art journal of yours.

        • Katherine. you are on my blog saying things that are mean and hurtful and you are using a very rude tone. I am sorry you feel so strongly about this, and even more sorry that you choose to express it this way towards me. I do not appreciate you coming to my blog and unloading like this.

  15. I come from a childhood where everything I do is never good enough. I spent a lot of my adulthood proving that I am enough and worthy. It’s not easy to heal the ‘wound’. It is a constant struggle and battle. I have good days and I have bad days. Bad days are when I feel like giving up but art has helped me heal tremendously. Yes!! I can’t afford to sign up for many classes or buy art supplies. As a result of that, I am more discipline in saving so that I can do something for myself and at the same time pay my bills. The asian culture is that once the kids are adult and working, we have to give our parents a certain amount of money. And I am able to do that too eventhough I am not earning that much. Of course I wish I have more art supplies. lol!! Recently, I created faces using a skewer stick and food colouring. (cheap 60cents for food colouring and skewer stick FREE). πŸ™‚

    .I don’t blame my parents or my childhood as it has definitely made me stronger and resilient . However the wound is there and sometimes it hurts. Only now at the age of 42, I truly take time out for myself to heal and to be with positive people. To be honest, I still have a little resentment and anger but I am fully aware that there is no cheese don’t that tube!! It’s pointless holding on to anger and resentment. So I use art as a way to freely express myself. It doesn’t have to be a perfect face, as long as I practice and create and have fun and JUST BE IN THE MOMENT TO EMBRACE ALL OF WHO I AM IN THAT PROCESS!!

    Lastly I do think classes are like investment, you want to be learn certain things then you pay for it. Not everything comes free. And when I pay for a class I then to value it more by investing time and effort into my art work.


    You are an INSPIRATION!! THANK YOU!!
    Li Li recently posted…Finding the gem in the simplicity of thingsMy Profile

    • Thank you Li Li for your thoughtful comment. It’s difficult to balance recognition of what we would have benefited from in our past and the knowledge that our parents did the best they could at that point in time and within a certain culture.

      I love how you’re enabling yourself to do art and be creative despite any monetary restrictions you may have. Art primarily comes out of us, the supplies are secondary.

  16. I was positively discouraged from being creative by my own mother in my childhood and even in my adult life. When I announced at 10 years old that I wanted to be an author, she told me I didn’t have any talent for that, so I didn’t bother. Then I wanted to learn how to sew (my mother’s very good at sewing) and she told me I wouldn’t have the patience for it, so I didn’t even try. When I wanted to paint the door frames blue in my own flat (that my parents helped me buy), she wouldn’t let me, saying I would just mess it up and she would have to put it right. She painted them for me. (We fell out big time over that!) So I never really tried doing anything creative until I got married and moved abroad! Then the floodgates opened and I’ve discovered all sorts of creative activities, including mixed-media two years ago. I know my mother visits my blog and even though she now appears to praise my work, I can’t help feeling insecure about it. When I put anything on my blog my first thought is always “what will my mother (and other people) think?” I’m convinced my mother thinks I’m just wasting my time and I should be doing something more useful and productive. My insecurities are very deep rooted and difficult to get over. I’m constantly trying to convince myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think – all that matters is that making art makes me happy.
    Zsuzsa Karoly-Smith recently posted…WOYWW #377: Holiday Part TwoMy Profile

    • Zsuzsa, thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences of having a discouragement narrative in your life. I feel so sad for younger you who was subjected to that and wasn’t able yet to know differently. I’m so glad you have found it inside yourself to become creative and do that despite the ingrained childhood thinking that I’m sure you still struggle with a lot. Big hugs!

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