Each of us faces many defining moments in life. Those moments become indelible memories, always a part of us. Those defining moments tell us who we are — and who we’re not. They shape us, mold us, and influence us — for good or for ill.
If you read between the lines yesterday in my post about the acrylic pouring workshop, you might have noticed something amiss, something not quite right in all I wrote about. I did enjoy the workshop. I did come away with two completed pourings, and for what it’s worth, I’ve since purchased some pouring materials and with my husband’s help, I’ve set up my own little acrylic pouring area in my studio. I have a couple projects in mind, so obviously I found some pleasure in it.
But I also found painful feelings, doubts about being an artist, and lots of anguish and frustration. It came about in one defining moment — not actually even a moment, merely a few seconds. Isn’t it mind-boggling, really, to think that such a brief span of time can have such a profound effect upon us?
As you might have noticed from the pictures I posted previously, we were seated around a U-shaped arrangement of tables with the instructor in the center area.
After we’d finished our first project — the small tile — the instructor walked around to see how each of us had done. “That’s lovely,” she nodded to one participant. To the next, she smiled and said, “Oh, I like that.”
Next she came to one of the most incredibly talented artists in our club, and I certainly wasn’t surprised when the instructor gushed over the tile. “That is absolutely gorgeous!” she exclaimed, with good reason. It was absolutely gorgeous.
At this point she’s in front of the girl to my right. She nods approvingly. “That’s really nice,” she remarks. She steps in front of me, looks down at my tile, and then moves to the girl on my left, telling her “Oh, I love those colors you’ve used.” And on she continued around the table, leaving me with the knowledge that my little tile was not worth commenting on, a certain affirmation of what I’ve known all along. I’m not an artist. I have no artistic abilities. While acrylic pouring is something that anyone can do…. well, correction. It seems that acrylic pouring is something that anyone but me can do.
So I’m sitting there, looking at everyone around me and wondering, what’s so awful about my tile? Was it wrong or lacking in some way? Was my pouring really so bad?
I pushed all the negative feelings down — remember, I’d been having a “bad art day” all day — and resolved to do better on our second project. I chose my colors with care. I listened. I followed directions. I came up with something I thought was nice to look at.
Around the table came the instructor with kind words for every canvas, until she came to mine. She at least gave me a slight nod before she began praising the girl to my left in much the same way she’d just praised the girl to my right, but not a single word was spoken about my canvas.
Again, somehow, my pouring obviously wasn’t good enough. It didn’t merit even a “nice job,” or a “pretty colors” remark.
Why? Is there something inherently bad about anything I create? Or, if not bad, at least so mediocre, so boring, so unoriginal that it deserves to be bypassed, overlooked, and utterly ignored?
Yesterday I explained part of my hesitation about trying acrylic pouring. I wrote:
Maybe there was a part of me that expected that somehow I’d be the one person who couldn’t do acrylic pouring and have it turn out right, that maybe I’d discover that I wasn’t even artistic enough to do a “no talent required” form of art…
And so, you see, the workshop was like my worst art nightmare coming true. I came away knowing that I am not an artist, that I have no artistic ability, and that no matter what I create, it will be lacking in some fundamental way.
Now, of course, the logical, rational side of my brain was disputing this. I’m a highly creative individual, and I’ve actually won awards for my art. Besides, acrylic pouring isn’t really fine art, it’s all random, so it’s impossible for one artist to be better than another… isn’t it?
But that line of thought led back to the realization that even the simplest form of art is apparently beyond my capabilities.
My rational brain also faulted the instructor a bit. In going around, one by one, and offering comments or encouragement, she was wrong to skip over me, wrong to treat me as though my work didn’t matter. It angers me just a bit. I paid for the workshop the same as everyone else. I should have been entitled to the same consideration. She should have commented on my pourings.
But blaming her didn’t ease the sting. It didn’t erase all those long-standing doubts, all those feelings that — at best — all I’ll ever be is a pretend artist, a wannabe.
I returned home from the workshop, looked at my now-very-disappointing works with acrylics sliding all over, called it a night, and went to bed.
The next morning I was still hurting emotionally. I cried a little and wondered again why I’m so bad at art. Why not just give it up? Why bother trying any longer when my efforts weren’t even worth noticing?
I spent a lot of time thinking things over, all the while hearing that nagging voice insisting, “You’re not an artist. This proves it. You’re not an artist.”
And then I made a defining moment of my own. I decided I would go down to my studio. I would draw. I would paint. I would go right on studying art and learning new techniques, trying new methods.
Why? Because I am an artist.
I’m an artist not by virtue of any gift I’ve been given. I’m an artist by virtue of the hard work, determination, and desire I’ve put into my art. That gives me every right to call myself an artist.
Marching down the stairs to my studio yesterday took a bit of courage. I had to fight the doubts away at every step. In the end, it was that moment, that decision, that willingness to go on that truly defined who I was, that continues to define who I am.
I am an artist.