I love kids. They both enthrall me and scare me. I love their frankness and innocence in their questions and comments, and I find myself feeling obligated to try keeping them in their blissful, unjaded state. That means encouraging them to speak what’s on their mind without any negative judgment or criticism, while trying to challenge them to consider other viewpoints when they voice something that’s not quite right. Children have great memories and can parrot grown-ups amazingly well.
I’ve never liked labels, especially as they tend to limit while attempting to define us/our world. Labels have both negative and positive connotations, depending on the context and the person using it to describe someone or something.
For instance, I’ve always had a hard time accepting the label “artist” because in my mind it’s a goal I’d like to achieve one day, and I feel so far away from it. What I do with a piece of paper and drawing or painting medium isn’t art. It’s more like messing around with what’s on hand and seeing what appears. I make a lot of crap, but that’s ok because during that moment of crap-making, I’m lost in my world, time disappears, and the only thing there is is the bit of the world that I’m trying to capture.
One of the things that I like about making things with kids is that they’re pretty easily impressed. I remember one time I was just doodling on a piece of paper, when a boy came up to me asking, “Are you an artist?”
“Not really,” I said. “I just draw a lot.”
“Well, you’re a good drawer.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed and a bit like a phoney. But then I realized that to him, I was an artist because I was doing art. Although all I could see are the areas that I needed to improve in my execution, he thought it was fine just the way it was. Like I would have thought of his work, were I to have seen it, I’m sure.
I also thought his comment about my being a “good drawer” was pretty profound. Like a drawer, I hold a lot of things in—some of which are forgotten until rediscovered later. But I’m sure he was just thinking of a “drawer” as a person who draws and not as a receptacle.
I think I also reject the label of artist for the negative connotations. I don’t consider myself flaky, on the fringes of society, or out of touch with reality—at least, not most of the time. Like a teen, I often feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and disrespected, but that hasn’t made me do anything monumental in my artistic endeavors. At my best, I make pretty things that make me happy and other people, too. At my worst, I just add more visual vomit to the landfills or clutter in my office.
The biggest challenge for me is to quiet the inner critic that keeps me from making anything at all. I also need to stop comparing myself to the Great Masters because we’re entirely different. I can appreciate their artistry and vision, while working to improve and refine my own. What better way than by simply setting myself in front of that blank page/canvas and creating, while suspending any judgment while things unfold? Perhaps I should call it having a “private party” and just enjoy it for what it is. Celebrate the process vs. the product.
Maybe I need to hang out with kids more often. I’m sure I can also learn a few more tricks from them. And maybe it would help if I treated myself as though I were a kid and stop being so critical. After all, how can I expect to grow and learn without making mistakes along the way? And maybe one day I’ll see that the mistakes aren’t really mistakes at all.