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Art Anxiety

They didn’t touch any of the paintings.  They didn’t hit each other.  They didn’t get ink all over themselves.  And Ezra didn’t swear once all morning.

Our first day of the at the Museum of Fine Arts last month was a success.  So were the next two meetings.  And so was the three-day family art class we took last week.

Each time I take them out in public, I read them the riot act.  Who knew that art classes would be the only places where I don’t need to do that?

Both boys received (and still receive) therapy for fine motor delays.  Ezra can barely form a letter.  Zach’s pictures look like a typical pre-schooler’s. So I kind of thought that they might hate all of this drawing and painting and holding still to look at other people’s drawings and paintings.

Or maybe I was just projecting.  I was always told by teachers that I was good at math and science, and that I just had to get through the froofy parts of the day.  I came away with the impression that I was incapable of doing well at artistic endeavors, but that it didn’t matter because they weren’t important.  So I never liked art, and didn’t imagine that the boys would either.

But the boys were excited in the museum: They loved learning new words (rotunda, contemporary, and abstract), and learning about Chinese art forms (scholar rocks, calligraphy, and landscapes).  They were thrilled to mix ink and water and experiment with the different brushes.  Their excitement was almost contagious.

Still, when Jake, our teacher, handed me an ink stone, ink, and a brush on the first day, I panicked.  ”I suck.  I really suck and he’s going to think I’m a loser.  And he’s a hip art dude, and I don’t want him to think I’m a loser.”

What I said aloud was, “I kind of have art anxiety.”

“The grown-ups always do.”  And then he handed me a cup of water to mix the ink, as if the issue was settled.

So I sat down and mixed my ink, which was kind of like science so I was chill.  And then I painted.  And then I painted something I really loved.  It was a simple flower, but I felt nearly euphoric.  I had painted something.

The family art class we took this week was further confirmation that art is no different from every other subject.  The teacher was more of a drill sergeant than Jake.  But he kept saying that art is matter of practice and attitude.  Are you willing to keep trying until you learn the skills to make something beautiful?  We’re not all going to be Shakespeare, but with rare exception we can all learn to appreciate and tell good stories. And our lives will be richer for it.

And that may be truer with art than most other subjects.  Charlotte Mason, whose work I reviewed last week, said that nature journaling – noticing and drawing what you notice – is perhaps the most powerful way to know God.  If you are patient enough to really look, and drawing helps you really look, you will see his fingerprints on his creation.  I for one could certainly use more evidence of the creator’s hand in this world.

So I’m hereby putting down my anxiety.  Art is for everyone.  Even me.

  • denise

    Hey Tara,

    I love this post. Sometimes I forget how much I loved art when I was younger (before high school & college made art "not worth my time"). Then when I start up again — bam! I love it.

    When I visit my parents, my mother (who is in the "art anxiety" camp) and I will sometimes pick an object or picture in the house and each sit down with a pencil & paper to draw it. It's a fun little bonding exercise.

    Denise