What It Takes to Be an Artist: Skills
“But I can’t even draw stick people!
Oof. If I had a dime for every time I heard this, no one would ever worry about me being a “starving artist.” Usually, this is said by those who don’t consider themselves artists, when viewing impressive work. And believe me, I get the feeling of seeing art that is beyond your current capacity to make; that’s something I face on the daily. But you and I both know you can make a stick person, and probably a mighty fine one at that!
Of course, this phrase isn’t really coming from someone’s inability to draw a circle with a few lines. Roughly translated, “I can’t even draw stick people” means “I’m not sure I have what it takes to make art.” And while those feelings are real, art is built on learnable skillsets. Whether you have never considered making art, you want to start but don’t know how, or have been making art for years, I hope this encourages you to take a leap and try something new.
So what does it take to make art then? For me, it comes down to three elements: skill, passion, and purpose. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry. I guarantee you can do more than you think. For now, let’s take these one at a time.
This is the element that tends the get the most attention. Skill can be a bit flashy sometimes, as it receives the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd. But when it comes down to it, it may be the least important of the three, and here’s why: skill is a tool, not the product. As a kid taking art classes, this isn’t something I understood. The “best” art was always the piece that looked the most realistic, the one with the crispest lines, the most smoothly shaded values, etc. I thought skill and the art were one and the same; the tool was the product in my mind.
As my practice developed though, a distinction made itself known. Gradually, I realized that skills are useful to convey an idea clearly, but they do little to actually make that idea worth while. The value of an idea is often subjective, but the point remains; I would take a crudely drawn picture made from the heart over a finely crafted image that means nothing to the artist.
Pursue skill not to give value to your work, but to clearly illustrate your valuable ideas. This may mean painting realistically, it may not. Amassing various skills serves as a tool box to effectively convey different ideas, but having these skills is not what solely makes me one an artist.
Maybe he’s born with it. Maybe it’s...
Another misconception to clear is that you have to be born with skill in order to make art. No person came out the womb with a paintbrush in hand, nor is an artist’s first piece ever their best. It may be true that some have the ability to learn skills faster than others, but don't let that deter you! I firmly believe that every person has the capacity to create in some way that is meaningful to them. The trick is to explore and to give yourself the grace (i.e. embrace frustration and resistance as an inherent part of the process!).
Take time to notice what type of art you enjoy viewing and/or making. Especially note art forms you haven’t tried before; there is so much more to art than drawing and painting. Some people get up-in-arms about what is or isn’t art, but I’m not into squahin’ anyone's dreams. Just make stuff that you care about. Express and enjoy yourself, ya know? Think about important things and form educated opinions about them.
Taking another step
With this understanding of where skill lies in making art, you may be wondering where to start. I often begin with a bit of research. Interested in wood carving? Google it up! Want to do digital painting? Check YouTube! Don’t let the sea of information scare you, pick up your oar and start paddling. And of course, the value in putting pencil to paper cannot be overstated. Keeping a sketchbook filled with scrawlings that you don’t share with anyone is especially helpful.
And beyond it all, know that it’s okay for what you make to not be “perfect,” if ever something could be. As this blog develops, I will post various tips and tutorials to add to your box of skills (and tell me what's been helpful for you too!). Keep exploring. You've got more in you than you know.