Moving Beyond ‘The Talent Quest’

I spent the morning drawing and I really enjoyed it. Then I spent much of the rest of the day debating whether what I’d done was any good or not. To be honest I realise this preoccupation with judging the work produced stops me from actually doing the work.

Drawing For The Absolute And Utter BeginnerAt some point you have to stop obsessing over things and just make a mark.

In Drawing For The Absolute And Utter Beginner, Claire Watson Garcia writes:

Among adolescent and adult beginners who do start the process of reviving their artistic life, many are focused on the talent quest. Much as they might want to develop their artistic potential, they fear they’re destined to be a person with “no talent” who can “never learn to draw.” But it’s simply not the case that only a handful among us are equipped to pursue meaningful artistic expression. Drawing is a capacity that is developed, not something that springs fully formed one’s hands. The best way to learn how to draw is to forget about the talent quest and even any long-term drawing goal that you might have. Instead, this book asks you to focus only on the step-by-step instruction – a learning process designed to give you the understanding and skills needed to begin drawing with confidence.

The ‘talent quest’ is clearly a killer. I’m not exactly sure how one consciously stops being concerned by it, I guess you just keep showing up and keep trying. Perhaps it’s just a question of checking your expectations at the door. Recently I found myself being really disappointed with a pastel portrait I had produced. I wanted it to be a masterpiece and it wasn’t. In fairness it wasn’t a bad attempt especially if you consider it was the second picture I had done with pastels. Somehow even I overlooked that somewhat salient fact. I guess if I’m being honest there’s a part of me that thinks artistic expression is so subjective that I might never produce compelling work. Sure my five year old niece goes around telling people I’m an artist, but it is often to laughter from adults amused by my efforts. I feel this great pressure to do a sort of ‘cost-benefit’ analysis for this hobby (or whatever it is) to prove to others and myself that I’m not wasting my time.

But there are glimpses of light even in this shadowy tunnel if you stop to notice them. On October 19th 2010 I uploaded a self-portrait sketch to Dailybooth and received this comment from a complete stranger:

thats a really cool drawing.. i really envy you for being able to draw

It was rather surreal reading that because I had thought much the same thing about other people. I certainly hadn’t thought I could draw… erm, even after I produced drawings. Even after I produced drawings I really liked and were proud of (I’m sure that sketch is one of my best to date). I guess one of my central fears is that an artist is someone else, certainly not me, and certainly not something I can become. But surely this is a silly fear. Surely every time I create something I am an artist. Producing an artwork is a process, but so too is becoming an artist or continuing to be an artist. Perhaps the best way to maintain a sense of perspective on your own development is to be constantly looking back and forward, to consider your latest work in the context of your larger body of work and to critique new pieces with a reasonable knowledge and understanding of your current level of experience.

Drawing For The Absolute And Utter Beginner is one of the better drawing books that I’ve encountered, I’d highly recommend it to anyone.

2 comments… add one
  • The talent quest is tough on writers, too. Too much self-judging really inhibits producing anything.

  • I really admire you for being able to put lines on paper in any kind of order at all. I am one of those adults who has come to terms with the fact that drawing is not my talent. I’m okay with that. Allows me the space to sit back and enjoy the work of people who can. 🙂

    PS: If you make art, you’re an artist. End of story.

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