My School-Art vs. my Intuitive Art

Can I be frank with you here?

I speak with a lot of people who are afraid to be creative as adults. In fact, they're petrified to try, simply because they didn't do well at school-art. I hear it all the time: 'I can't even draw a stick figure.'

So I'm going to say something completely out-there:

Bullshit. If you believe that about yourself, you're believing a lie.

If you believe you can't be an artist because you did crap in art-class, it just means you don't respond well to conforming to measured outcomes. And I bet if you picked up a pencil, you could draw a stick figure ... and much more as well, especially if you've got the right people to back you and support you journey.

The truth is, the school system teaches us many things; and much of it is about conformity, not creativity.

Here's how my school-art experience went:

I remember getting so excited about my first high-school art lesson. It was the thing I most looked forward to about my transition to high school ... a whole session or two each week, dedicated just to making art. Yeah, yeah!

When the day finally came, do you know what we did? All of us sat at our desks, and drew pictures of what we ate for lunch. Every one of us. I had a cottage pie and a can of coke ... hardly fascinating subject matter.Yet I jumped in with vigour.

Another time, we studied our art textbooks and reproduced pictures of men shearing sheep. But wait, it gets better. In addition to drawing the muddy, shorn sheep and sweaty sheep-shearers, we divided the image up with pencil lines and learned about perspective and the 'rule of thirds'. Shit boring stuff. But apparently it's important.

A third time we made sculptures from soap stone. I actually enjoyed carving into and sanding my sculpture, but it only lasted two weeks and there wasn't enough time to finish it, so I took it home to do and we never did it again in my whole high school career.

But I still kept going. In fact, Art was still my favourite class and I did it right through high school. The reason for this, is that I loved the process of making. And maths did my head in.

Halfway through my senior-school years, I switched streams from 'board-art' to enrol in 'prac-art'. This basically meant that I'd no longer be eligible for uni after school, because I was doing the stream which was more hands-on, than theory-based art (I was discouraged from switching to the 'dumbed-down' stream, as I was intelligent and could go on to do great things. I just wanted to enjoy my school years and learn what I loved, and my parents supported me to do this. I've never looked back, nor did it matter in the end. Even back then, my heart led the way).

Once I made the switch to the less-academic stream, I painted on canvas for the very first time. That's when I finally learned how to blend two colours together, when to use wet and dry brushes, how to make batik-silk scarves and paint the thoughts from my dreams. I was finally set free to think out the box and I relished in the opportunity to explore myself in this way.

With both 'streams' of art-making, I finally found one that fit. Why did one feel freeing, while one felt freezing? Here's why:

In theory-based, outcome driven art, we were never taught that creating could also be about experiencing a feeling or idea that comes from within.

Instead we learned, like muddy little sheep, how to sheer away at a task in order to produce an outcome. We were taught how to have a plan and follow steps. We were taught how to please our teachers to get desired grades. And for those who couldn't work that out, try as they might, they went on to believe their art was shit. Or be disqualified from University. Go figure.

It's funny, you know. I actually went back to Art-School in my adult years. Twice.

The first time, I chose a practical folio-building course rather than academic-art quals. It was juicy and delicious, but still based on test outcomes. I secretly believed I wasn't a 'real artist' because I couldn't give long, detailed speeches of the meaning behind my art, but I wasn't required to either, so that was more fun.

The second time, after years of wishful thinking, I enrolled in an At-Therapy course. We learned through practical experiences and the content was incredibly empowering and collaborative, but were tested by outcomes. Sigh. Measure, measure, measure. But I loved the free process.

All of these experiences led me to slowly develop a different way of making art that felt right for me. My new way stemmed from a feeling, which was about pure enjoyment. It felt more like an intuitive unfolding, and there were no outcomes to stick by.

I could just take as long or as short as I wanted. I could choose stuff to work on that I was interested in. I could be playful and free, in a way that suited me. I didn't have to 'say something significant' through my work. I could just create for the joy of creating. The fact that I generally ended up with a finished artwork became just a bonus.

In time, lots of time, I began to slowly realise that perhaps, my way of creating was a legitimate art-form. Maybe I was an artist, just a bohemian one, a practical one, an intuitive one. These days I know this, but let me tell you, it took years to take root. And I'm still learning. My school-art and knowledge of 'real art' was largely based on outcomes and theories, so I needed to push through that before I could really take flight.

In a nutshell, here's what I now know to be true:

  • Art doesn't have to be about reproducing a 'something', in fact it's lovely when it's doesn't
  • Art doesn't have to be about meeting an outcome, the process is fulfilling allin itself
  • It's completely okay to make art for art's sake, just to feel good
  • Art doesn't need to look like a photograph, use your camera instead if you want that
  • A feeling is delicious subject matter and the most unique you'll ever create
  • It's wonderful to have no idea where you're headed, you'll be open to gifts along the way
  • You don't learn to be creative, you just unlearn other's stories about you.

For all those people who have a secret yearning in their heart to make art, no matter how covered up it's been over the years, or what anyone else has told you about your abilities; then let me ask you this:

If you were never taught how you should make art, how would you feel about doing it? If that person who ridiculed you never existed, what would you be doing right now? Would you feel free? What mediums would you love to use, or try? What did you most love doing when you were a kid?

These are some keys to unlocking and igniting our dormant, creative spark.

These are the reasons I teach my art courses and I prefer not to promise measured 'outcomes', such as finishing a canvas in a three hour workshop. Because I'd rather you enjoyed the process and be gentle on yourself as you learn and flourish.

My life has taught me a way that feels good to create, and it's got little to do with outcomes or text books.

It's about enjoying my life and who I'm growing to be.

Love C x