Do you remember when you were a kid and drew just for the sake of drawing, not really caring about the outcome? And do you remember how freeing that mindset was? I believe artists should approach their art with that same child-like spirit, no matter what their age.
Adults generally prefer to have a set of concrete rules. If we want to learn how to do something, we look it up on Google or Youtube. We want someone to just show us how to do it, so we can do it right.
Many people approach learning to draw that way too. They seek out tutorials on drawing 3-point perspective, human anatomy, and 3-D shading. But there’s something way more important in learning how to make art than learning correct technique, and it mirrors how we learn as children.
We don’t begin life learning the concrete rules of calculus and physics. We begin life by exploring and playing in the immediate world around us. We begin by experimenting, asking questions, trying new things, and putting stuff in our mouth just to see what it tastes like. We begin more generally, more flexibly, and work our way up to the concrete specifics.
So why do adults do the opposite with art later in life?
If you jump right into perspective, anatomy, and shading you’re going to be overwhelmed, and you’re going to be bad at it. Because everyone is bad at everything in the beginning. Most people will become severely frustrated at themselves for not “getting it” right away, and that wall of self-judgement and anger will do you in—you’ll quit drawing. This is when people often say the dreaded phrase, “I just don’t have artistic talent like other people.”
But the reality is they just approached drawing wrong. They jumped into the deep end, when they should’ve waded in from the shallow end. They skipped ahead and started halfway through the journey, rather than at the beginning. You’ve got to start at the beginning. Otherwise you’ll fail at every turn because you’re just not ready for it.
Somewhere along the way, we lost that child-like mindset of freedom, love, and play, and we replaced it with self-criticism, comparison to others, and a stiflingly closed mindset.
If you’ve approached drawing this way, or you’ve been tempted to, it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of artists and art teachers. This is the way art is taught to people, both in person and online. And I know exactly why. It’s easy—for the teacher. It’s waaaay easier to teach a technique than it is a mindset.
It’s way easier to explain the concrete steps of shading a sphere than to explain the artist’s mindset.
I firmly believe in a much different approach to learning how to draw. You can’t start with the concrete rules and techniques. You’ve got to build up to them. You’ve got to learn to explore, play, and experiment. You’ve got to be able to open up your mind to new possibilities. You’ve got to learn to turn off that judgemental voice in your head. You’ve got to develop confidence and trust in yourself. You’ve got to experience some success. You’ve got to see that you can do this, you can draw.
That artist’s mindset will give you a sense of empowerment that will carry you way farther than being able to draw 3-point perspective.
I’m so adamant about this idea because I’ve seen it happen so many times, and it almost happened to me. If you approach art the concrete techniques way, you only have two options:
You’ll get frustrated with your skill level, assume you don’t have the “talent” and quit
You’ll grab on to the rules and techniques so hard you’ll become a master imitator and you’ll have an extremely hard time breaking out of that to develop your own artistic style. You won’t be an artist, you’ll be a copy machine.
So if this resonates with you, and you feel like you can’t draw, just remember—you did it when you were a kid, and you can do it again. We just have to channel our inner child.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with more on how we can develop that child-like artistic mindset!
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