A Class for Non Artists
In September I taught a class for Southwest Writers. I called it a class for NON-artists because my purpose for the class was to encourage adults who don't think of themselves as artists to try it. I showed them some techniques that are a bit different from what you might expect from an art class – like finding and tracing the images we all occasionally see in wood grain or in the marble swirls on our shower wall.
In my experience, by the age of 8 or so, most people have already decided whether or not they are artists.And whichever way it goes, it tends be a definitive decision that rarely changes with age. Once we are convinced that we cannot use a pencil, a crayon or paint to duplicate things we see in the world, we believe we are not artists. Unfortunately, this also often translates to not creative.
In humans, the idea of not being creative is laughable. The fact is, each and every human being is a super-creator! Creating is what we do. Creating is how we solve problems. It's how we communicate, it's how we expand our knowledge and our sense of self. Even the most unintelligent, dull human on the planet will work to create new ways to secure his own comfort or to shorten his route to work. We are creators, each and every one of us.
Other than the spoken word, making images is humans' most primal method of solving the problem of how to share the things we've seen and experienced – when you have no word to describe that giant creature that just stomped on your house, you draw a picture; you use your own blood if necessary to show others what to watch out for.
As we humans evolved, so did our ability to finesse the lines of our drawings, better materials helped, and, yes, some individuals appear to have been born with artistic genius. We all know those artists whose lines flow across the page in perfectly symmetrical swirls and who can whip up a cat in five seconds that looks like it could walk off the page. These are the ones that non-artists compare their pencil scratches and stick figures to while reinforcing within themselves that they will never be any good at art.
When your mother's second cousin is showing off her perfectly detailed oil painting of the entire family posed in front of last year's Christmas tree, try to remember that art doesn't actually require the rendering of an exact, or even a close, duplicate of what we see. What is important is to create something that communicates the desired form.
What if we taught this principle to second graders and asked them to effectively communicate the idea of a cat? They could excel at this assignment simply by writing the word PURRRRR in big colorful letters across their paper – no drawing skill needed! Could the expression of a cat be communicated with nothing more than a triangle for a nose and six lines for whiskers? That's seven shapes on a page that anyone would recognize as a cat. You can easily make a representation of a cat with even fewer marks than that, or build a cat from some small landscape rocks or with a handful of the flower petals and leaves that are now falling to the ground in profusion.
Writers are often told to pare down their compositions to the fewest, most powerful words that will communicate the story in a captivating way. Art is no different. Challenge yourself to represent common earth or household objects using only a pencil and as few lines as possible. And while you're about it, remember that you ARE a born creator.