Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Art as a Valid Hobby

"I can barely draw a stick figure."

This is a comment I've heard many a time over the years. I've also discussed the comment before in another context. This time I'd like to approach it from a different angle.

So, why can the person who says this not even draw a proper stick figure? Why not significantly more than that? They're not likely to make this apologetic remark with other things. I mean I know it's meant to be a form of compliment to me, but it also seems to reflect a little on one's own history of drawing, and the disappointment that probably led to one stopping, probably as a child.

It's pretty rare that I've heard someone say to a musician, "I can barely play a scale." If they can't, they just know they can't play an instrument and leave it at that. If they can play an instrument at all, invariably they are able to play more than a scale. They may have learned some basic chords, enough to play a favorite song on a guitar. They may have learned a bar or two of Für Elise...though I hope they don't play it anywhere near me.

That bit of Für Elise or that folky song isn't much. You're not calling yourself a musician, but you are happy to be even that good, to be able to play a few songs, a little awkwardly but through to the end. If you grab some tablature, you're able to learn something new. You've sung in the shower for years and aren't overly afraid of karaoke. And you know what--that's fantastic. No one ever said you must be an excellent musician before you deign to pick up and enjoy an instrument.

(L) Learn a few of these and you're well on your way to rock stardom

Many of you get this, intuitively. A musical instrument is something anyone can pick up, play a bit with, learn a few songs, and get a lifetime of enjoyment out of without progressing very far past that, or even caring to. It's enough to liven up a campfire, and that's fine by you.

So why can so few draw much more than stick figures? Look, most of you reading this blog at one time or another would also draw. You didn't draw a ton, perhaps, but as with most kids (especially so among those who are now a bit older, like myself), you learned to play an instrument or two in school, played some music, and didn't get much further than that. You've probably forgotten how to read notation already. Similarly, you probably used to draw. Maybe you'd draw a favorite cartoon or comic character. Flowers. I don't know. The point is at one time you drew, and sometime during school, probably mid-to-late elementary, you just stopped, and probably for good.

Whether one has forgotten how to play a trumpet, or never learned to play even Chopsticks on the piano, many still pick up an instrument as an adult and learn this basic amount I'm talking about. Why is it then that so few people pick up drawing as adults? I've only met a couple of adults who are not professional or even aspiring artists, who actually spend free time drawing or painting. It was something that simply enriched their lives.

I find this very strange. Where do folks get the idea that unless they draw very well, they shouldn't bother, and since they aren't willing to put in effort to get as good as they think they need to be, therefore they never will draw that well, and so they never draw?

Can I give you some advice, from a professional to you? Don't think that.

(R) You will probably never draw this well. You will probably also never wear a beard like this either. So, see, my point is made. (Art by John Everett Millais)

If you ever liked to draw, and wondered if you should try again, or if you never really did and would like to give it a go, then you know what? Draw. Paint. You'll probably never be Vibert, but you'll never be Andrea Bocelli either. That doesn't stop you from singing in traffic and feeling great.

Drawing for pleasure has many benefits, as does playing music for fun. And anyone, with just a few weekend seminar classes or even a few good books, can get well past stickmen. Yes, if you'd like to make a hobbyist's go of it, it may require some drawing exercises only a little more fun than playing scales. That's the nature of anything you really want to make a hobby out of, though. If you take up gardening, you inevitably spend time reading about plants and flowers, learning about soil types and minerals, growing seasons and pests. Knowledge is a necessary foundation of anything worth doing.

So, if you'd like, leave it to the professionals to wrestle, sweat and strain over reaching the heights of visual art. As for you, draw. You have an advantage a professional does not--you can draw 100% for enjoyment. Your income isn't based on it, your reputation is not tied to it, you don't have to show anyone if you don't want. You can gain all of the good, with none of the risks involved. No anxiety, no punishing self-criticism. No second-guessing yourself.

So what are you waiting for? Grab that #2 pencil, that ballpoint pen, and get at it!