I have two of my own paintings displayed in my home. Are they well-done? Not particularly, but I display them nonetheless, right along with paintings and prints by much more talented friends and artists. It’s important to recognize the value in creative endeavours, regardless of overall quality. That’s why I hang my bad paintings and revel at their colour when I pass them in my home.
I know I’m an artist. It’s a label I’m comfortable claiming as a writer, poet, dancer, and hula hooper. But for many years, I would say, “I’m an artist, I’m just not visually artistic.” I now understand that to have been my impostor syndrome speaking. Dance is a visual art, photography is a visual art, and even poetry and stories can encompass visual art.
As a child, drawing and painting didn’t come naturally to me. I often felt self-conscious when I would compare my creations to those of other children in my classes. When they drew their families, you could identify who each member was and when I drew mine, we all just looked like blobs with purple hair. When insecurity about “natural ability” came knocking, I swung the door wide open and welcomed it into my heart, where it made a cozy home for far too long. By internalizing the belief that I was not a visual artist, I shut down the possibility of being one. I closed myself to an important aspect of my own expression and it hurt the other areas in which I strive to be artistic.
I was doodling in a meeting one day and when I looked down at my page, I really liked what I saw. It was an abstract collection of scribbles and shapes in a pattern, sort of like a mandala. This seemingly insignificant piece of paper brought me an epiphany. Perhaps I wasn’t such a terrible artist after all. Maybe realism just wasn’t the right thing for me to have ever reached for. Pleased, I made a habit of drawing this way. It gave me confidence and reminded me that there isn’t just a narrow definition of art. It was around this time that I started colouring more and making more homemade cards for people.
I found that the more I drew, coloured, smudged pastels, and painted, the less I cared how “good” my artwork was. It simply felt therapeutic to do. There’s plenty of scientific research to back that feeling up. We now understand that making art has many benefits to our mental and physical health. The more you flex your artistic muscle, the less anxiety there will be around doing so.
Based on my own experience, my advice to anyone looking to branch out of their standard medium is to start easy. For me, that was colouring and doodling. I did that for quite some time before even thinking about picking up a paint brush. If you are already a visual artist looking to branch out into creative writing, try starting with haikus or journal writing. If you’d like to start dancing, learn some easy choreography on YouTube. And if you’d like to try your hand at music, try singing your shopping list for starters. Once you develop a habit, you become more carefree about it and that’s when you’ll really get into a flow state!
Believe the People Who Believe in You
Not long after I started to indulge in visual arts as more of a habit, I came home to find a gift hanging on my door. It was a book about how to draw and a sketchbook that had been very sweetly left for me by a good friend. I was so thankful to her for seeing that I was leaning into my artistic side and giving me a little token of encouragement.
I think what keeps so many of us from engaging with activities we’re “bad” at, is fear of not measuring up to others or being judged for doing something poorly. I know those emotions came into play for me, even though I didn’t intend to be a professional painter. When I was able to tune out the possible negative voices and tune into the very real positive ones, I learned to believe in my potential.
One of my paintings that is prominently displayed in my dining room was created with the very same friend. She and I had an artist’s date at a local painting studio where you can pay a modest cover fee to access painting supplies and complimentary coffee and tea, as well as assistance from a staff artist. We both created our own small masterpieces while enjoying each other’s company and catching up. Not for a moment was I nervous about what she would think about my piece or my technique. It was pure comfort to sit next to my friend and create.
This same friend has made many gestures to encourage my creativity. When I get a moment of fear about what I’m doing, whether it’s a medium I’m strong at or one that I’m developing, I think of this friend, I think of my Mom, I think of the people who have consistently given me positive feedback for the work I put out into the world. Those are the people I choose to focus on. Doing so has helped me break out of my shell.
Sure, sometimes negativity can fuel creative expression but most of the time it’s just a drag. Don’t worry about the nay-sayers. Tune into the people who believe in you. It will make you believe in yourself too.
Be Proud of What You Make
Creativity is a natural inclination for humans. Our very survival and evolution has depended on it. What’s unnatural is discouraging creative expression. Being proud of my bad art had the added bonus of making me even more appreciative of my good art. It helped me build the confidence I needed to share the work I felt sure of more widely. If I can like my simple paintings, surely others can love my more elaborate writing.
So, display what you make in one way or another. Whether it’s hung on your wall or set as your phone’s background, seeing your work can help you realize, like I did, that making something bad is better than making nothing at all. There’s always room for improvement and practice will get you there. When you create, you are indulging your most natural instinct and developing your brain power. Making bad art is worth the boost to your mental and physical health.
Don’t worry about being perfect, just express yourself and know that you have the power of creativity within you at all times. We can’t all be prodigies but we can all contribute to a more artistic world and that, in and of itself, makes every single piece of bad art worthwhile.