I have a student who, when she first started painting intuitively, asked me if I thought it was a good idea for her to take a more technique oriented art class.
She was feeling critical of how images were showing up in her paintings. She judged them as childlike and kooky. And she thought that developing some painting skills might make her feel more satisfied and happy in her creative work.
I told her that I thought she would be better served if she spent some time getting grounded in her own intuitive creative practice before she tried to learn someone else’s approach to making art.
She trusted my guidance and it also felt right to her so that’s what she did. And continued to practice Radical Self Acceptance and self love for the ways that she naturally expressed herself.
After a period of time, she was ready to try something new and took the plunge into a more technique based art class.
When I saw her after her first class she told me that she wasn’t going back. When I asked her why, she said that even though the teacher was a lovely human being and was only trying to help in the best way she knew how, my student couldn’t STAND someone else telling her what to do and how to be creative.
The techniques and step-by-step exercises she was introduced to left her feeling bored and somewhat stifled. She felt inhibited by the various definitions of what made a good painting.
She was afraid that if she continued down this path of following someone else’s instructions that she would lose the precious sense of heady exploration and deep trust in her ability to wander in the realm of not knowing. She worried that she would once again start negatively judging her out-of-proportion figures and surreal, upside down landscapes that she had grown to now love.
She’d gotten a taste of what it was like to paint in her own kooky, offbeat and childlike way and found it to be incredibly satisfying and fulfilling once she let go of expecting it to be something that it wasn’t. She began to see her style as valuable in its own right. And could not bear to try and fit herself into what felt like a box filled with artistic expectations.
She had gained power and confidence in herself as a Creator. She no longer needed anyone else to give her permission to create.
She had found her way to full creative freedom.
This is something that doesn’t happen as readily when you start out your artistic life by learning how to paint or dance or write or draw by imitating someone else. The motivation behind that impulse is very often related to the belief that you can’t rely on your natural ability to figure out how to create. And that without instruction from a “real artist” your own way of making art will never be good enough.
It breaks my heart when I see someone taking a class where all they are being taught is essentially a way of copying the teachers style or method.
I have seen over and over again situations where everyone in a particular class ends up with paintings that look like the person’s work that they are studying with. It’s often someone who has a style that is popular or in great demand. And learning that style gives the folks taking the class a certain feeling of confidence in the process of making art.
This approach to teaching art certainly has a great deal of appeal. I know how intimidating it can be to face the blank canvas without having a clue as to what you need to do to even begin.
But the sad part is that in those kinds of classes, students very seldom get supported to go beyond what the teacher is showing them and begin to make their own art.
They don’t learn that they can trust themselves as artists and trust in how their own art manifests. Which might be weird or quirky or intense. It might be silly or childlike or goofy. It might be dark and brooding and disturbing. It might be something that no one has seen before. Or a combination of all those things.
It’s challenging to make art that is truly yours because when you do that, what you discover is yourself. You discover your unique way of being a creator. But creating from that place of total authenticity carries with it no guarantees that you will get outside approval or positive attention for what you have created.
What we have learned in this culture is that outside attention and approval in the form of money and popularity is the primary thing that validates our art and us as artists.
And when we don’t get the approval or the sales or the accolades we start to doubt in the value of what we have created because we’ve never been supported or shown how to look for it inside of ourselves first.
When people first come to paint with me they often have a not so secret hope. Which is that getting in touch with their real selves and creating from their inner creative essence will automatically result in a masterpiece. They want something that they can take home and feel good about. They want to have the feeling that what they have created will blow other people’s minds.
And they are often rather disappointed when that doesn’t exactly pan out.
Many of us have a very difficult time loving and appreciating our art for how it comes out of us in an unvarnished and spontaneous way. But we need to learn HOW to do that. To learn HOW to simply open our hearts to our own creations without demanding that they live up to some sort of standard.
We need to LEARN how to love our art unconditionally.
We want to love our art. We really do. Because our art IS an extension of ourselves. When we can’t love our creations it’s a form of self rejection. Which is very, very painful.
So to ease that pain, and because we’ve never learned to give that love and acknowledgment to ourselves, we continue to look outside for that love in the form of attention.
And the cycle keeps perpetuating itself.
Being a true artist means getting to a place of allowing your own voice, your own style, and your own way of expressing yourself to come through unhampered by what you think will sell, or be popular or allow you to feel accepted.
It is allowing your art to come through you from that place of pure love.
When you can love your art and who you are THROUGH your art it opens you to a powerful joy and radiant confidence in your natural way of expressing yourself. And this joy goes much deeper than what you could ever gain through applause or other people’s appreciation. Those kinds of positive responses to your work are wonderfully affirming. And when you’re an artist, it is incredibly helpful to have people in your corner who support you and love your art.
But finding the people who love what you already do is a very different process than figuring out what you think people will like and then molding your art to conform to what is fashionable or trendy.
If you’re always looking outside of yourself for validation that you’re OK, you are less likely to look inside, which is where you will reliably find what is most real and alive in you. You won’t get to experience the luscious and profound fulfillment that comes from honoring your deepest creative truth.
And your deepest creative truth is what is needed in the world right now.
We all have a genius inside of us. And when we take the step of expressing that genius it creates a ripple effect of transformation. It’s how we can bring much needed change to a world that sorely needs change as well as healing. And as much love as it can possibly get. But we can’t exercise that world-changing magic if we are hiding our unique expression behind another person’s style as a way to protect ourselves and stay safe.
Love for our creations as they are is a revolutionary act. Because loving ourselves is a revolutionary act. So I invite you to join the revolution. Of art. Of love. And of wild creative freedom.
Of being fully and openly and courageously your truly one-of-a-kind wondrously creative self.