What a year of Beginner Art Classes Taught me
Let me tell you a story about the year I decided to go to art class.
A bit of context. I have never been particularly good at ‘art’. In high school I did take film and TV and did like photography. But ‘art’? I firmly ‘was no good at that’. Couldn’t draw and couldn’t paint. After school I went into a business degree and then later changed to study to become a Psychologist. Very rational type things!
It was a few years into my career when I managed to convince my mother to come to Nepal and trek the Inca trail (if you can, I highly recommend you go). And I can get quite romantic notions from time to time about sentimental keepsakes from travels. Heirlooms of sorts. So, I decided I really wanted to be able to draw what I saw on the trek and come home with a bit of ‘art’ as a reminder of our travels.
But, as I mentioned above, I definitely couldn’t draw.
Luckily, my apartment was just around the corner from an art gallery, and they taught beginner art classes on Saturday mornings. Feeling all romantic about the idea, along I went as the next beginner group started.
When is a beginner not a beginner?
To be totally upfront, I really don’t like looking like a wally, and am not great at being ‘bad’ at things. Way too shy and awkward for that kind of thing. But in a beginner class everyone is starting fresh, so I figured it would be ok. And the gallery was lovely. There was this beautiful open deck at the back where our gorgeous gallery owner and artist held her classes for a few hours every Saturday. In sunny Brisbane, it was perfect. We would gather, do art, have a coffee and baked goods break (yum) and then work on our pieces some more.
Until it became obvious that not everyone in my ‘beginner’ class was a beginner. Forgive me, but if you have an art studio at home you are not a beginner. And I’m going out on a limb and saying if you are a draftsperson of 30 plus years and have drawn that entire time, you are not a beginner either.
Needless to say, my lovely group of 8 or so classmates were significantly more ‘qualified’ than me. Every few weeks we looked at a different type of art (paint, water colour, abstract, charcoal nudes, landscape, mix medium etc) and these beautiful people were always creating something so much more ‘good’ than me.
I was quite good at my job. I did well at university. So being the dunce of the class was an unwelcome experience. And man was it uncomfortable! There were days I would go home from class feeling really deflated, embarrassed and a little hurt. This wasn’t quite the level playing field I was hoping for!
So why stay?
Now, you may well be asking yourself why keep going back? There were definitely mornings when I tossed up not going (especially if it was a big night out the night before. As you do when you are 20 something). For some reason though, I usually found myself walking around the corner with my sketchbook under my arm.
Why? Firstly, there was that thought of maybe still getting good enough to draw something on the trip.
Then there was the fact that I had told a lot of people what I was doing.
I think the main reason though, was that I actually enjoyed it. in between feeling highly incapable and a little embarrassed. These were genuinely great people with interesting lives and the conversation as we worked was always good. The laughter frequent. Also, there was coffee. And did I mention the baked goods?
The real kicker though? Even though what I produced at the end of the day wasn’t going to go up on the wall, the process of creating it was genuinely enjoyable. Yes, creating art can be fun, even if it isn’t ‘good’.
What does all of this mean?
Towards the end of the class series we came to mixed medium. Which is what I would call a bit more ‘crafty’. You add things to the paint or whatever you are using, and create a bit more of a three dimensional effect. And you know what, I wasn’t rubbish at that! And my art studio and draftsperson buddies were really struggling.
What do you know, no one is good at everything!
Even better, I learned that I am not great with a blank slate. To much indecision when the options are wide open. Too much ‘analysis paralysis’.
But give me something tangible to work with and its a different matter entirely. While this might sound fairly inconsequential, its actually led me to angle towards all kinds of fun things, like interior decorating and styling, rather than trying to paint as a way to be creative. Essentially, it opened doors that I was meant to go through.
What else did I learn? Well, I never really liked abstract art. Didn’t really ‘get it’. But going through the process of making a piece and seeing what that journey looked like, all of a sudden I could look abstract art and really enjoy it. So much so that to mark the end of my ‘art year’, I purchased a piece from a local artist that the gallery was showing. And I love it to this day.
Now I also look at paintings in a whole new light. I used to look at them and go, ‘well yeah, that looks like a photo or rendering of that thing’. Now I wholeheartedly appreciate the time, dedication, patience and skill it takes to get that end result. In short, learning how hard it is and how less than great I was at it myself, helped me appreciate the efforts of others. And appreciation definitely brings a whole lot more joy to life, so I’ll take that.
When it all comes down to it thought, there are a few reasons why I think about that year of art class as one of the best things I have done. It taught me a lot of things, including:
- Sometimes the goal you set isn’t actually the one you reach. Sometimes you get something better. For me, rather than being able to draw in Peru, I got comfortable with looking like a wally, not being fabulous at something and just having fun with it anyway.
- Nothing good comes from comparing. The best thing you can do for yourself is keep your eye on your own lane. The value in the same experience can be totally different for everyone.
Oh, and no I didn’t create great drawings on our tip. We did take a lot of photos though!