In Making Comics, Lynda Barry asks: how old do you have to be to make a bad drawing? This brilliant question catches on all the snags in our tangled thoughts about good art and who gets to make it. And if we let it, it dissolves them right out.
I wanted to write this month about skill and consistency. Skill- which is usually what people are thinking of when they start to think of art as good or bad, as right or wrong, I suppose it's the thing that adults start telling kids they should have, at some age, at some point. And consistency- the idea of an every-day practice.
Last month, Jess wrote in Discord about going to an in-person watercolor class and I haven't been able to stop thinking about her story and question. This month's writing is based on the response I've been drafting to her in my mind now for the past few weeks.
"We did a sphere and apple. I’m such a beginner that jumping into it feels so technical and a bit discouraging. My attempts were not great. I'm sure this is part of being a “beginner”. Others in the class, even beginners have such a better grasp than me. No real question, but would love to hear from others that may relate. I know (and want) more of the technical skills - but delight in the abstract and freedom of making marks that feel good. Do I just power through knowing it’s a good practice even though it’s technical feeling and a bit discouraging? Is this just part of growth and skill building?"
I feel my own questions coming through - is this the necessary slog that we have to go through?
Unrelated to art (or as unrelated as anything in life could be), I've been working through some beliefs I picked up years ago: That the hardest thing is probably the right thing. That you have to work for anything good. That in my nervous system, doing the opposite of what feels good is associated with safety: staying on good terms with people I don't like, not quitting, pushing through, discipline and consistency, saving up, avoiding things that I am drawn to that would be embarrassing or vulnerable to failure or danger or ostracism, etc etc.
As you know, art for me is not the place to show off the success of "best self" (a phrase just as useless as good art as far as I'm concerned), but it is rather a spacious and intimate place where I can bring everything, dump it out in my sketchbook, color it in, move it around, add a mustache or sparkles. In other words, I don't try to become a thoughtful, consistent person so I can make art. Instead, I go to art to ask my tender questions: is it true that it should feel hard before it feels good? So far, my sketchbook (who is always kind, and who loves me - it's important to remember this often) has been trying to show me otherwise.