You can’t be bad at art.

When it comes to art, even personalities that aren’t perfectionist suddenly descend into weird, nit-picky hangups.

“It doesn’t look right.” “It doesn’t look real enough.” The one who never alphabetizes her books will develop a dire need for right angles and even planes. The one who can’t keep his pantry in any semblance of order will agonize over brushstrokes that refuse his attempts at realism. “I can’t make it look the way it does in my head.”

“I can’t.”

More demoralizing, discouraging, and disheartening words probably don’t exist in the art world, whether you’re talking visual arts, writing, music, or performance. Artists in every medium and of every range of experience maintain this mental image of what their art should be — usually in comparison to someone else’s. “I can’t” — because nothing they produce ever measures up to that ideal they’ve carried around probably since childhood.

“They.” What am I talking about? This is a case of “we,” for sure, because I’m one of those artists.

Talking to Yourself

There’s this thing called the Self-Talk Cycle. Maybe you’ve heard of it; I can’t remember who first coined the term. But the Self-Talk Cycle describes:

how you talk to yourself about yourself in your head;
what emotions this engenders in you;
what actions you take based on those emotions;
what you tell yourself about yourself as a result of those actions;
and so forth.

Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about (click to embiggen!):
 

selftalk

 

So, imagine that you consistently tell yourself, “I’m bad at art. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I try this, I’m just gonna mess up. Besides, doing art isn’t productive. I shouldn’t waste my time or other people’s time.”

What we say to ourselves about ourselves always leads to feelings. How will you feel as a result of talking to yourself like this about your artist self? Your musician self? Your writer self?
Frustrated.
Overwhelmed.
Guilty for even thinking you could take the time for this.
Disappointed.
Angry with yourself.

What actions will you take as a result of these emotions?
Avoid your art projects.
Ignore your urge to create.
Dam up and wall off the impulses that lead to art, music, writing.
Block relationships with other artists, musicians, writers. Keep them at arm’s length so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. Heaven forbid they tempt you to try creating again.

What do you tell yourself about yourself as you take these unpleasant actions?
I’m alone.
I’m not as good an artist as ________, so they wouldn’t want to hang around me anyway.
I’m no good at art, music, writing. There’s no point in trying.
If I try, I’ll just waste people’s time.
I’ll just screw it up again.
I can’t.
I’m bad at art.

This circle is particularly vicious. It has teeth, and if you let it go on long enough, it will tear your spirit to shreds. (I should know.)

Don’t let that happen.

Fight that vicious, spirit-shredding monster with the Truth.

Here’s the Truth

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

Read this and let it sink in:

Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist
(@Jay_T1313)
(emphasis mine)

…and…

“When we say we are afraid to begin a project, we are actually saying something else: “I am afraid of how I will feel as I continue.” We do not want to start because we do not know that we can continue. It is not the start, it is the finish that troubles us.”

Julia Cameron

Part of the fear of beginning is the fear of being seen as a beginner…a novice or even an “inferior.” (I can’t remember where I originally came across this idea; possibly it’s more Julia Cameron.) Another part of the fear is fear of knowing ourselves. Fear is where the cycle of art-murdering Self-Talk begins. “It’ll never look right. I’ll screw up. I can’t…”

…because I’m afraid.

But you can.

Because you can’t be bad at art.

And you don’t have to let fear rule you.

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

That little subtitle there is a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament book of Joshua, Chapter 24. Some might accuse me of taking it out of context (though I really don’t believe that I am), but here’s the crux of it for this post:

You have a choice.

You can choose to be subject to fear.

You can choose to immerse yourself in the negative things you tell yourself about your art.

You can choose to obey your fear of being a beginner again.

You can choose to obey your fear of failure.

You can choose to serve your fear.

Or…

You can choose to be subject to freedom. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose life. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose to immerse yourself in speaking kindness, joy, peace, love, and beauty to yourself about your art.

You can choose the courage it takes to get to know yourself.

You can choose the courage it takes to show the world who you are.

You can choose to serve your art,

following where it leads,

even if it leads you to truths about yourself you didn’t want to know.

You can choose to serve your art,

thereby serving Truth and Life and Joy,

thereby serving Good and Light and Freedom.

Sometimes, following your creativity, following Truth and Light and Freedom, means looking into dark places. This seems a paradox, but it’s one of those universal paradoxes that crop up in our existence every so often.

Look into yourself, delve into the dark places, and find in them the Light.

“I know myself, and I will know myself further. I am brave enough to learn who I am. I am good at art. I feel free and strong in my art. And I am brave enough to show it to the world.”

You are everything you need to be, but you’re not there yet.

Become what you already are.
 

Depression and Creativity

The Depression Part

I’ve felt depressed lately.

Sad. Lethargic. Numb. Angry. Frustrated. Disinterested. Dark view of life. No hope. Blech.

I’ve blogged about depression before. And I’ve blogged about one of the main triggers of depression for me: not exercising my creativity.

When I realized that I was depressed, I said to several people who love me, “Hey, I’m depressed.” NOTE: Telling loving people that you’re depressed is helpful in starting the process of getting out of the depression.

Those several people who love me replied, “Hey, we’re not thrilled about this. Do you know why you’re depressed and/or how we can help?”

This was an excellent response for two reasons.

One, it let me know I’m not alone in this.

Two, it helped me figure out how to handle this.

You see, I had to answer them as follows: “There’s nothing that you can do, really. I have a baby whom I love dearly and deeply. I don’t resent her or begrudge her the time I spend with her. But the fact remains that when I’m taking care of her, I’m not writing. And when I do have time to write, I’m so exhausted that I fall asleep at the computer. There’s nothing anyone can do, really, to ‘fix’ this situation (which isn’t actually broken).

“However, having this conversation with you makes me focus on ways I can exercise my creativity in writing without sacrificing my daughter’s needs. So thank you for talking with me about this. That helped.”

The Creative Part, Pt. 1

And then I went and wrote a blog post, and I felt better. And then I invented a recipe for almond chicken, and while cooking doesn’t do a lot for me, it’s still a creative task, so I felt better after completing that, too. And then I reorganized two rooms and a closet, and the exercise in creativity required for that gargantuan task was a humdinger of a creative exercise, lemme tell ya. And then I made up a song about giraffes for my daughter and videoed myself singing it. After that, I was practically glowing.

So. I’ve felt depressed lately. But I’m on my way back up.

I still feel a ton of frustration that I nod off every time I sit down to continue my WIP (Elevator People). But at least I’m doing little creative things here and there. I think I just needed a reminder not to neglect that part of myself — and not to let exhaustion fool me into thinking I don’t have time for that part of myself.

After all…crippled, demented, or crushed: still, I will create.

The Creative Part, Pt. 2

And then, my friend J.T. posted the following on his Facebook status, and I thought it was utterly brilliant:

“Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist

I’ll be blogging about J.T.’s ideas more in the near future. But for now, here’s how I’m relating his words to my depression:

I need to know who I am.

When I don’t know who I am, I get depressed.

When I am not creating, I am not spending time with me, not getting to know me.

When I am not creating, I am not seeing myself fully.

When I am not creating, I forget who I am.

When I forget who I am, I get depressed.

I could flesh this out a bit more, but I think it suffices for my current purposes. More than ever, I see the truth in my belief that I am created to create. To dig more deeply: I am created to get to know exactly who I am. If I am not doing art, I am not getting to know who I am.

If I am not doing art, I am neglecting a main purpose for which I was created.

No wonder that sets me adrift.

I am finding my anchor again.

Cures from the Past

"Castle in Her Coils" by Courtney Cantrell

“Castle in Her Coils” by Courtney Cantrell

"No More Room in Hell" by Courtney Cantrell

“No More Room in Hell” by Courtney Cantrell

"Sea Creature" by Courtney Cantrell

“Sea Creature” by Courtney Cantrell

"Redemption" by Courtney Cantrell

“Redemption” by Courtney Cantrell

In Which “Jesus” Works On My Novel

Well, folks. You’re getting a treat today.

Why? Because it’s one of those days.

If you know me in real life at all, you know all too well my penchant for scatterbrainedness. Most of the time, I can focus. Most of the time, I know FAR in advance what I want to do. I don’t necessarily live by a schedule — but I do know how I want my day to progress. And I get squirmy if I plan things and then don’t get them done.

On the other hand, there are days like today.

Today, my darlings, I just can’t focus. I should be writing for you a blog post of beautiful coherence and cohesion, something with a unifying theme. Something that makes sense as a whole.

Regrettably, that’s not going to happen.

Here are three random items instead:

1. Last week, my friend Patricia pointed out that I don’t talk the way I write.

It’s true. I don’t. When you’re engaged in verbal conversation with me, I don’t use phrases like “engaged in verbal conversation.” I don’t start sentences with “regrettably,” and “penchant” is not part of my everyday vocabulary. And I don’t talk so fast that you have to squint at me and tune out the rest of the world in order to keep up.

In verbal conversation, I hesitate a lot. My sentences are shorter. A lot of them don’t get finished. And I say “That’s funny” way more than any human being should.

What’s more, I’m an introvert. So, unless I know you well, or unless we’re among a small group of friends, I won’t talk a lot. I won’t go on half as long as I do on my blog.

I’m a writer, not a talker. Yes, I’m a sucker for great conversation…but with just a few people at a time. Preferably two or three. If I can get an individual to talk to me one-on-one until the late hours of the night, I’m almost in heaven.

YES! Give me that intimate meeting of the minds!

I promise I’ll keep words like “juxtaposed” to a minimum. 😉

2. Jesus reminds us of how important it is to have an actual plot in our stories.

One day, whilst meandering through Facebook, I posted a link to my friend Jessie’s blog.

Jessie had reviewed a book in which the plot was not clear. In my headline above the link, I pointed out that her post was a good reminder of how important plot is in any story. Another Facebook friend commented that at first glance, he thought I’d written “Jesus” instead of “Jessie.”

I kind of like the idea that good storytelling is a divine command. It fits my mantra: Created to create!

3. Once upon a time, Jessie’s brother John admonished me about my habit of self-deprecation.

From 2001 to 2007, the husband and I lived in Germany and worked with a small church there. I could write a whole year’s worth of posts on everything we did, but the short of it is that we helped out however we could (organizing, construction-working, wall-painting, encouraging, mentoring, counseling, etc.) and taught private, conversational English lessons.

Our financial support came mainly from individuals back in the good ol’ USA, so I wrote regular newsletters to all of those fine folks, telling them the whats and wherefores of our lives. And lemme tell ya, those newsletters were long. I had to force myself to condense each one to two pages.

Those pages usually had 0.4-inch margins.

I frequently apologized for the length of those letters.

Then my friend John wrote me an email. In his direct, no-nonsense way, he said,

Don’t apologize for anything you write. If you’ve written a long letter, it’s because you’ve written what you felt was necessary to write. You weaken the message of your letter when you apologize for it.

Well. That made me take a step back.

Long story (ha!) short, I decided that he was right.

I never apologized for a long newsletter again. People kept sending money, so I guess they didn’t miss the apologies.

My friend JT, a university student, has some fascinating ideas for a novel. When we sit and chat about it, he invariably shoots me a warning look and says, “If I wrote this, it would be controversial.”

I tell him what John told me.
____________

Inconsistent vocabulary.

Divine commands for storytelling.

NO APOLOGIES.

What randomnesses of your own would you like to share? Lemme hear ya!