I grew up thinking that being an artist meant you had to know how to draw. My 6th grade art teacher instructed me to erase the drawing of my thumb because it did not look like a thumb. She said in front of the whole class, “You’re not a Picasso, it’s ok sweetie, you don’t have the talent to draw.” Frustrated and embarrassed, I gave up wanting to be an artist. Secretively I wanted to know how to draw, paint, and create master pieces like my grandmother Bertha Berry did at 68 years old. After my grandfather passed away in 1972, she took up oil painting, creating one master piece after another!
I spent one of the hottest summers in Waco, Texas with my grandmother. She placed a sauce pan, several spoons, and rolling pin on the kitchen table with a stack of drawing paper and some charcoal pencils. With her load of wet laundry in her arms, she commanded, “draw what you see,” and then disappeared down the back steps to hang the clothes on the line. By the time she returned, I was in tears, unable to pick up a pencil, so fearful that I would not be able to draw anything that resembled the pile of objects she dumped on the table. AND confirm my 6th grade teacher WAS right - I really didn’t have the talent or genes to draw what I saw. But the love of my grandmother came through that day giving me a principle that serves my life, “honey, you can do anything, someone just has to show you how first.” With that, my grandmother showed me how to draw, not only the positive space but the negative spaces too. On that day in 1983, I became an artist. Or so I thought.
Over the years, I became more and more frustrated living with this artist label. I took classes, LOTS of classes, learning from many different instructors and learning many different techniques. In January of 2002, while in Paris for a psychotherapy conference, my husband and I visited the Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin, the Louvre, AND the Picasso Museum … ALL in one day! Being in the presence of so much art, I hardly noticed my husband’s suffering from “Art Burn.” I sat watching with amazement, a French preschool teacher instructing a dozen or so little children on the concepts of Picasso, helping the children see the faces. Then one child said something and everyone laughed... he declared in French, “Picasso is a Kid.” As I walked through the museum, an Ah-ha moment happened as I viewed the “The She Goat.” I recognized that Picasso used play and recycled materials he gathered from the dump exploring shapes, size, structure, and so could I. On that day, my creative muscles emerged like the Hulk.
There are two phases of creativity. First, there is the Bertha Berry method where you gain entry into the art world - you can do anything, but someone just has to show you how first. This is where you learn the techniques; where you build the self confidence. From the moment Picasso was born, his early years of life were immersed in the art world absorbing the basic art forms and theories until he perfected the realistic model. And then instead of saying, "Yes I just want to paint photographs for the rest of my life," something else happened to him. The second phase of his creativity emerged which said, "I want to go beyond that." He was exposed to many different techniques, yet primarily it was his inner voice. Picasso couldn't get to that inner voice without first learning the structure.
Bertha WAS right; there are some things you have to be taught. But this goes beyond Bertha's instruction. There are some things that CANNOT be taught. You cannot teach someone to be creative.
Creativity is discovered.
Creativity is something that THEY MUST discover on their own. Something that I discovered hearing the child understand Picasso from a child’s perspective. Creativity is learning AND discovering. We can teach art. We can't teach creativity. Yet we can teach people how to get out of the way of their creativity to let it be discovered just as Picasso did, allowing his creativity to flow while walking through the dump.
So my 6th grade teacher was right … I’m not Picasso. I’m ME!
Some equate who they are with the quality of their work. Even little kids starting to draw begin to evaluate their drawings with unrealistic expectations. “It doesn’t look like a face...” and tears begin to flow for any 4 year old who becomes overwhelmed with the stressful chore to be perfect. We all have a 4 year old inside of us.
One thread we humans have in common is the difficulty with tolerating not being competent in every minute of our lives. And for some, give up quickly, never recognizing life is a practice. We humans are influenced by values in the world – some think there is one right way of doing a task, and too often these tasks are evaluated, judged, compared to other works, all done through unrealistic thinking.
It’s no wonder we have some sort of relentless self-evaluation running through our thirsty souls, searching for the next brilliant solution and perfect ideas. And even when we humans get the feedback we long desired, we might think others are not honest, or feel we are not good enough. We continue to focus on what is wrong, rather than what’s going right.