“This Above All, To Thine Own Self Be True”

You probably recognize these words: This above all, to thine own self be true.” You might also know that they were written by William Shakespeare and are spoken in his tragedy, Hamlet. The lines are found in Act I, Scene 3, wherein Polonius offers advice to his son Laertes, who is going off to university. After giving a bit of counsel on various aspects of life, the father sums up his advice with those oft-quoted words.

By the way, if you’ve seen Renaissance Man with Danny DeVito — one of my all time favorite films — you’ll remember these words serving as the underlying premise of the story. And if you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s an old film – 1994 — but look for it. You won’t regret it.

Now, loving Shakespeare, Danny DeVito’s acting, and Renaissance Man, I should be keenly aware of the importance of remaining true to myself — and, for the most part, I follow that sage advice Polonius gave. But when it comes to art… well, sometimes I’m not sure who I am, so it’s easy for me to miss the mark by trying to be somebody I’m not.

Now, for a moment, let’s talk about neurographic art and my 100-Day Creative Project. It’s turned out to be quite an interesting project, and I have no regrets about choosing it. I think, as I continue working with the concepts from now through May 24, I will learn a lot about art, about who I am as an artist, and who I am as an individual, as well.

Reading about neurographic art — sometimes called neurographica — is interesting in itself. It’s promoted as “a cathartic meeting with the unconscious”. It’s an act of mindfulness. Anton Antokhin — the link above goes to his website — is a certified neurographica instructor. He explains:

It bypasses the rational thinking mind and is able to reach deep into hidden layers of one’s psyche. Your unconscious, ordinarily inaccessible, is opened up. New neural networks are formed in the brain. What you thought is impossible suddenly becomes a reality.

The results can range from immediate insights and revelations to changes in your life that take place in the most unusual and creative of ways. Since you’re working with the unconscious, you may surprise yourself days later with a solution that comes seemingly out of nowhere.

I will attest to “immediate insights and revelations”, although I won’t go quite so far as saying that this process has been life-changing. Perhaps by the end, it will be. I will say — again and again — that it is extremely thought-provoking. I am constantly surprised by the thoughts that come as I’m drawing and immediately afterward.

But, this doesn’t mean that I’m an all-out fan of neurographic art. I’m not. It many respects, it’s similar to “zen doodling” or “Zentangles” — both of which I enjoyed briefly, but which soon became irritating and annoying. It shares some elements with slow drawing — which, again, I enjoyed at first but soon came to dislike immensely.

It’s intuitive, but what does that really have to do with art? That’s a rhetorical question. I could give you a lot of answers to that question, but let’s just leave it hanging and move on, all right?

When it comes to neurographic art, I get stuck a bit with the art part of it all. I still have a lot of old ideas about art — and about my abilities — ingrained in my head from childhood. I’m learning to get past a lot of those unhealthy and restrictive ideas. My concepts of what is and what is not art have broadened considerably, to the point that I can — on occasion — see one of my neurographic pieces from the perspective of “art”, at least “art” in the sense of “creative expression.”

Yet doing neurographic art makes me nervous, anxious, unsettled, jittery. My hands shake. I start feeling frustrated all over again, just as I did with doodling and slow drawing. I fret about my lines being too thick or too thin. I agonize over my scribbles. I’m indecisive about which colors to use — or if I should even use colors at all! No, for me, it’s not soothing and relaxing. It’s not a peaceful, meditative time. It’s a highly nerve-wracking art experience!

And it comes back again and again to the question — am I really creating art? My answer, for the most part, is “No, not even close.” I say this, you see, because as I’m browsing around and learning more about the process of neurographic art, I’m seeing what other artists — real artists — are creating. Some have created very simple works, like the ones I’m doing. Others, however, have taken the concept of neurographic art to incredible places with dazzling results. I look, I gasp, I wish I, too, had that sort of talent.

Alas, I don’t.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying. At least, it didn’t stop me on Day 6 when I saw a neurographic piece that combined the process with the sort of “doodles” I’ve done in the past. It was gorgeous. I wanted to be the sort of artist who could do something like that. So, I tried.

In places, I shamelessly tried to copy ideas the original artist had used. Mine fell so far short! After a while, I was nearly in tears. I wanted so much to create something as beautiful as what I’d seen, but I didn’t know how, I didn’t have the artistic talent, I wasn’t that artist. I was just me, and I’d wasted a lot of time trying to be somebody else.

I’d originally intended to fill the entire page of the sketchbook. I’d meant to add colors. After looking at my sorry attempt to imitate someone else’s art, however, I just closed the sketchbook. I wanted to pretend that this page never happened.

But perhaps this page — as awful as it is — taught me the most essential truth of all about art, and about life.

This above all, to thine own self be true. I’m not a great artist, I’m an old, but avid student who’s working to develop drawing abilities. I’m imaginative, yes, but in my own way. I can’t copy something that came from someone else’s creativity and expect it to be true and authentic.

Recently, those words — true and authentic — have come to mean a lot to me where art is concerned. My art is not good, but it’s getting better. Yet good, bad, or ugly, I want it to be honest, to be a reflection of who I am, what I believe, and how I feel.

Maybe this is one of those insights that’s happening through neurographic art. Maybe what I’m doing is transformative and life-changing. I don’t know about that, but I do know that this has been a very interesting process, and I encourage each of you to give neurographic art a try.


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