“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
I’ve done everything but paint this morning. I’ve gone for a run, had a shower, made some tea, tidied my room, started writing this post…all whilst telling myself these are useful, practical things that are important and that I’ll start painting ‘soon’.
In other words, I’m putting it off.
I would say that I’ve lost my motivation to create recently, but that’s not true. What’s really happening is that I’ve got caught up in a story I’ve created about painting that is zapping my energy and turning me away from my natural creative impulses.
The story is convoluted and messy (just as all the best made-up and unhelpful stories we have about ourselves are).
“Maybe I’m not actually very creative. Everything I create is ugly. What if it’s always a horrible mess?”
“What if I never find ‘my thing’?”
“Maybe I’m not supposed to be an artist. What then?”
“I don’t know how to mix colours and I can’t get the ‘look’ I want.”
“I don’t know what to paint.”
“I don’t have a studio space that will enable me to paint how I really want to.”
“I wish I could paint like [X artist] but I don’t know how. Whatever I do will never match up to their work.”
“I’m not good enough.”
My head is a really fun party of thoughts right now, huh? But the thing is, those thoughts in themselves are not a problem. They’re just thoughts, right? A string of words plucked out of nowhere. But they become a problem when I start believing them, when I start making them meaningful in relation to me and my creative process.
If I take seriously the thought that everything I paint is ugly, and fear that everything I ever paint will be a horrible mess, how open am I going to be to trying new things? To just letting the creative process unfold, ‘ugly’ be damned?
If I take seriously the unfavourable comparisons my head makes between my art and that of another artist, how inspired and dedicated will I be to finding my own creative essence?
If I constantly worry about never finding ‘my thing’, when will I actually be open to the ongoing creative play in which I might actually discover it?
So I asked myself last night, what would happen if I took away those thoughts, or at least my attachment to them? If they didn’t mean anything to me, what would I do?
And the answer is, I would simply paint. I would play. I would explore. I’d make ugly colours and beautiful colours and I’d smudge them all over the place. I’d make weird shapes and fluid shapes. I’d use different brushes, I’d use my hands. I’d get messy. I’d paint like my 6-year-old self before I learned that some art is ‘good’ and some art is ‘bad’. Before I even knew I was making art and not just having fun.
That’s why I love Picasso’s quote (and his philosophy in general). With children, there is a simplicity in their creativity. They don’t overthink it. They don’t worry about how their paintings stack up against anybody else’s. In fact, they can’t wait to show everyone what they’ve done for there is no fear of judgement. They’re just full of joy.
As adults, we tend to overcomplicate (or at least I do, anyway). We often overthink. We’ve been taught techniques and been told what is considered tasteful and — especially in the art world — what is considered ‘fashionable’. So, whereas children are working from a true blank slate, as adults we’re trying to paint and create — to draw out our creative essence — through layers of conditioning, stories and images instilled in us by our culture and society. (And yet, how ironic is it that ‘childlike’ abstract art is so wildly popular in the art world?!).
This explains, for me, why I’m so uncertain about my artwork and about the kinds of gestures I am comfortable making. I’m constantly asking myself, “does this look good? Will people think this is ridiculous? Is it too basic?” I have learned to complicate. I have had my natural childlike creative impulses buried by thinking.
So, today, my aim is to see through the stories I have created in my mind, to paint regardless of the critical thinking and conditioning that tries to steer my every move and see what happens. Or actually, who cares what happens? It’s all about the process. The more I play, the more I will discover. The more joyful I feel, the more that will imbue my art with feeling. And that’s really all that matters.