Some Flowers, And A Request For Advice

I have wonderful friends who live nearby. We get together a lot – walking our dogs, swimming in the sea – and we eat together a lot too. Life is too short, as we all know, so my good friends and I make the most of the beautiful countryside where we live, and when there’s something to celebrate, we call each other.

My youngest, Liv, wanted to have an Italian-themed dinner party with our friends, and I told her that if an occasion worthy of celebration came up, we’d do it. She had great plans for home-made pasta – her intention was to haul out the dusty old pasta maker whose last outing was about sixteen years ago, back in the days when our beautiful boxer dog had his eye on the sheets of drying pasta slung over the backs of chairs…(sigh…sniff!)

But then one Friday morning I found out that my book was to be sold in the National Gallery of Ireland gift shop and in Shannon Airport Duty Free, which was plenty of reason to celebrate, and we decided to have our Italian dinner that evening with our friends. Liv wasn’t too pleased at the timeline – she’s a serious planner! Girl needs time! – but I’m the type who doesn’t mind doing a 360 on the spot, so I was good to go. The pasta machine had a reprieve, and we turned to the local supermarket for fresh pasta instead.

Liv did beautiful flowers for the table. My garden is sorely neglected but it’s full of wild flowers at this time of year so she was able to do a lovely job. I couldn’t resist painting them. Then I thought I would put the menu on the page beside it. I don’t always get everything right when friends come over, but this time everything was hot, perfectly-cooked and exactly right. Lorraine (my mate) made a scrumptious tiramisu which was pretty perfect too.

Lorraine brought sweet peas from her garden, so they had to be painted too…

I need your advice!

In my job as an art teacher, every now and then I meet someone who confounds me. They are clearly perfectly able to draw – they’ll make a really strong representation of whatever we’re doing – and they’re perfectly able to use watercolour, too. The problem is one I encounter with lots of my adult students (and hardly ever with my child students) – they have little self-confidence as sketchers. This can range from mild (“I know I have a lot of learning to do”) to severe (” I cannot do this and I never will be able to do this”). When I probe a little, I very often find that the sketcher in question had a parent, sibling or even spouse who was deemed to have “all the talent”. One student said to me recently “I firmly believe that talent skips a generation.” That’s not true – of course it’s not – but it’s highly likely that confidence can skip a generation. It is clearly mostly pyschological: even as I say “copy me, like this” and they do that, they revert to the state of a child, refusing to try the simplest of tasks. And I mean simple: I’m talking about drawing a square on a page, or painting the square in one colour. Then they get the idea, but as soon as I turn away they say they cannot do what they did one minute earlier. It is self-sabotage, and it’s a tough one.

Does any of this ring true for you? Were you that under-confident sketcher, and did you overcome it? If so, can you tell me what made the difference? Do you think that baby steps, tiny chunks of accomplishment at a time, could or would make a difference?

I don’t have this issue with children, because they haven’t soaked up any message of inadequacy yet: but if it were the case that some people have no talent, then surely they, too, would not display ability? It’s true that some kids are never going to become artists: I’ve taught many hundreds, and I can truthfully say that three children stand out in my memory as having very little promise as artists. Two of these were on the autism spectrum. The third still baffles me. On the other hand I have had at least forty or fifty children with what would be considered well above average ability as artists. How can that be – doesn’t average mean exactly that?

Here are my conclusions, based on experience of over twenty years’ teaching humans aged from 3 to 83:

  • More people than you think, much more, have artistic ability.
  • Under-confidence can be learned.
  • Confidence can be learned.
  • You’re probably a lot better at art than you think.
  • Humans are creative, just because they are human.
  • You’re born with talent, but any skill can be learned…and most people are born with artistic talent, from my experience.
  • Catch a child before he or she loses belief in themselves and they are far more likely to continue being creative throughout life.
  • Pride comes with age, and this is the biggest hindrance to progress.
  • Parents often say “my Johnny / my Mary is very gifted, but I have no idea where it came from.”
  • Adults also often say “I loved art as a child, but then I stopped. I can’t remember why.”

Do you have thoughts on what would improved confidence? I would be very grateful indeed if you would share your thoughts with me on increasing confidence in those who are clearly perfectly able to make art, and from any perspective – student, teacher, self-taught, whatever. Feel free to message me privately, or email me, as you wish (roisin(dot)cure(at)gmail(dot)com). It’s for a very good cause.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, in advance.

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