We all need permission to be a beginner.
“It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time. Give yourself
permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist,
you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time,
a very good one.” ~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
I began Nicholas Wilton’s online art workshop this week and am loving the opportunity to learn again from an artist whose ability to teach in an accessible way is only overshadowed by his talent and capacious heart.
Nick is kind, fun, and devoted to instilling in each of his students the ability to tap into what gives us supreme joy and bring that to our art. He goes to great lengths to make the instructions simple, clear, and nonthreatening. He repeatedly urges us to not get hung up on materials or our perceived ability, but rather, focus on what we love and simply do more of that.
He teaches concepts while working quickly on a page, laying down swooshes of acrylic paint, marks from crayons and pencil, and pasted down bits of colorful collage and line drawings. As he moves, he continues to give us reassurance that we can simply get going and stop the stifling pre-judging that all art makers grapple with.
Getting Better While Looking Bad
In 20-25 minutes, he has a page that is brimming with interesting elements, energy, and beautiful color, and we have soaked in a bit of confidence to try filling a page of our own.
And yet, even with all of Nick’s reminders, intentional word choice, and modeling of freely doing work without holding oneself back, there are many of us in the workshop who are still resisting getting going. We remain fearful that our work won’t be good enough, won’t be worthy.
One woman looked at the pieces of work posted in the workshop Facebook group and simply announced she was quitting. Everyone else’s work, according to her, was simply too strong, too good, and she had no hope whatsoever of achieving the same level of artistic prowess.
While I wasn’t willing to quit, I did share my classmate’s demoralized state which results from engaging in “compare and despair.” I, too, had looked at the work from others, many of whom had been doing art for decades, and saw the enormous gap between our skill levels.
I forgot I was a beginner, and that my work was supposed to reflect the same.
The Beginner’s Edge
After a few days of being frozen in the headlights of self-judgment, I realized that my Beginner’s Mind gave me an edge of sorts. I could approach my blank page without the same preconceived notions that perhaps more experienced artists have. I could make bold choices that may appear foolish or naive.
I could embrace the wild and free state of being that emanates from shelving concerns over a finished product and fussiness over whether or not I had any talent; instead, I could simply play, experiment, try, learn, and discover.
I could free myself from myself and use my novice status as leverage to pierce through the sticky membrane of vulnerability and visibility. I could cross the chasm of fearing results and end products to embracing the adventure and experience of creating.
Is there something right now that you are craving to do, to try, but are hanging back on the sidelines? Are you immersed in looking over your shoulder at what other people are doing and comparing your ideas, your dreams, your efforts to theirs? Do you require that your work and creative efforts as an entrepreneur and creator always be a grand slam, perfect?
Give Yourself Permission to Be A Beginner
Let’s get to our journals and answer these two questions:
1) Where in my life and in my work do I need to be more compassionate with myself?
2) Where am I not allowing myself to be a beginner?
I’m getting to my art-making this weekend with a fresh perspective and a new determination to let ‘er rip and surface what wants to become visible. I want to know what I think and feel much more than I want to know if the representation of either is “good.”
I want to step into the river of uncertainty and let it carry me, chin toward the sky, without worry of being pulled under the current of comparison. Join me?