TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #1: Artists Are Born, Not Made

(Reprinted from 2003)

I’ve been invited to do an artist presentation to various schools in my area, including a whole day at a high school in Vermont. I’ll be speaking with six art classes, not only talking about my art but also sharing my process of how I finally became a full-time artist.

I want to share with these students the beliefs that interfered with me taking my own art seriously. Some of these beliefs I held onto tightly well into middle age. A few are still with me even today, but I slowly chip away at them daily.

Let’s look at some of these myths closely. Today’s myth is one of my favorites!

Myth #1: Artists are born, not made.

Fact: A passion for art has to be there, but all other skills are acquired. No one is born knowing how to play the piano.

The first step to becoming an artist is to want to be an artist. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? After all, artists are born, not made….right? You either have talent or you don’t.

Wrong! No one is born knowing how to draw, or how to paint, or how to sculpt or throw a pot, anymore than anyone is born knowing how to play the piano or drive a car. These are all skills. They can be taught, they can be learned. Some people may find the process of acquiring those skills to be exhilarating, others may find the process boring. The people who find the process exhilarating may pick up the skill quickly and easily. Or they may not.

I happen to be a slow learner at some artistic processes. For example, I don’t like to draw. When I put my mind to it, I can draw passably well. But I don’t like sitting quietly and observing something, then using a tool to recreate that image on a two-dimensional surface, such as a piece of paper. So I was called an artist in elementary school because I could draw reasonably well, but secretly thought I was an imposter because I didn’t like drawing. And never progressed very far with it.

Later in life, I discovered I did like modeling clay into pleasing forms. And that I enjoyed a collage-like approach to most of the artwork I made. If you look at my artwork, you’ll almost always see a combination of media, and some sort of shaping and manipulation of form going on. But you’ll hardly ever see a 2-D work. (I do carve my own rubber stamps and make 2-D art from them. But it’s the process of carving the stamp, and then embellishing the surface that fascinates me.)

DO WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVE WHAT YOU DO

So we can fall into two traps by believing the myth that “artists are born, not made”.

One, we can be very good at something we don’t really enjoy, and believe that is our calling. Part of the reason for that is sometimes we learn how to do the things we don’t like, really, really well, so we can get them done and out of the way. But if you don’t enjoy doing something, no matter how good you get at doing it, it will always drain energy from you. So be careful about putting the focus of your energy into doing things you don’t enjoy, if you don’t have to.

And two, we can love doing something we aren’t very skilled at….yet! And that’s actually okay. Being willing to pursue something just because we love it can be very rewarding, if only because we’ll spend more time doing it–and hopefully, get better at it someday. Doing something we love feeds us. It gives us more energy.

So what are we born with? If not an innate ability to draw, then perhaps an attentive eye. We notice that there’s more than one shade of green in that leafy tree, or that the light just before sunset makes everything glow more richly. Perhaps we enjoy observing something closely and like the process of drawing.

Or maybe an attentive ear. Maybe we can remember tunes easily, and enjoy riffing off them every chance we get. Music affects almost all of us, but some people feel it is more than just enjoyable–it is necessary to have it, compose it, play it.

Maybe it’s our hands that have to be busy. Maybe picking up unusual rocks and pieces of driftwood and shells is as much fun for us as shoe-shopping is for our sister. We always have to be touching, hefting an object, enjoying its odd texture or beautiful grain. Maybe having the right mix of color and texture in our living room furniture is more important to us than the brand name.

All of these tendencies and yearnings may be the signs of a budding artist. But unless you follow them, nurture them and feed them, they won’t bloom. (Oh, no…a gardening metaphor!!)

So if you’ve always wanted to be an artist, but felt you didn’t have what it takes, you know better now.

Go sign up for that drawing class, or ceramics class. Learn how to carve a rubber stamp, or how to paint with watercolor. Jump in, and simply enjoy the process of learning a new skill.

Keep at it, and eventually you may find one that gladdens your heart enough to do it every day.

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4 Comments

Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, inspiration, mental attitude, perseverence

4 responses to “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #1: Artists Are Born, Not Made

  1. Pam Corwin

    I’m with you, Luann. Some of the most inspiring art I’ve seen is from students who apologetically tell me they’re not ‘really an artist’.
    It’s not just about training or experience. If you’re pulled to express yourself through any kind of art, you are (by my definition) an artist. I always tell the folks that come to my workshops: stop comparing yourself with others, just embrace it, enjoy it and own it. ‘Artist’ is not a title you should have to earn, , it’s in our hearts – no one else can tell you whether you are or aren’t ‘a real artist’.

  2. I wish I’d been told about working on art skills. I always thought you either had it or you didn’t in the visual arts. I am a music teacher but I often wish I were teaching or doing art. In high school I knew I liked art but didn’t think I drew well enough for a career. I have discovered that I have not enjoyed my post -graduate classes in music but am thrilled when taking art classes. I do art when I can. Though, I too like textiles and clay better than drawing.

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