Artistic Skills–Engage and Persist

Every artist has one: a cabinet, a box, a file, and/or a garbage bin where all the “turkeys” go. In my studio, it’s a box, and the reason these pieces are even kept is because eventually I will wash them off and paint something else on them.

There is a misconception that when an artist approaches the easel or paper or work surface, that artist knows exactly how the finished piece will look and simply begins with the end in mind, and easily completes that vision. That is about as far from the actuality as it’s possible to get.

The truth is that decisions, choices, and responses begin the moment I make the first mark or stroke. Everything I do after that initial swipe of pencil, pastel or brush is a response to it. What if the mark or swipe or stroke isn’t what I envisioned? That depends. Do I like it anyway? Does it have potential? Fine, it stays. I follow the path forward from this point, after adjusting my vision. Is the mark a complete mistake that really ruins the intention? Fine, it goes. I erase, wipe off, or cover over to try to direct the piece toward my already adjusted vision and intention.

There are times when my vision is so completely obscured by these many decisions and direction changes that it simply doesn’t say what I wanted to say, or it says it in what, in my opinion, is an inferior way. Sometimes that means it goes in the reclaim pile, and I start over.

What I don’t do, and what an artist who is learning shouldn’t do, is give up. There is no way to become a better artist by giving up and using the excuse that “I don’t have the talent, I guess”.

As an art teacher, I must know and share with my learners that mistakes are absolutely vital to progress. I must encourage them and even require them to persist. Learners must engage with their mistakes by asking questions about their dissatisfaction, and then begin again. It takes time and effort to build resilience in this area, but resilience is a skill that benefits us in all of life.

In fact, as I think about it, all of these skills that artists need are skills that also benefit us in the rest of living life on this planet as a human! This is why I believe art education is so, so, so important, not just in school, but for everyone.

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