Art is a funny thing.
It allows you to be who you really are, but are afraid to share with the world.
When I was in art school I took an intro to drawing course. We had a weekly large scale drawing due and we were forced to put it up at the front of the class for everyone else to glare at, judge, critique, and verbally tear apart.
It was terrifying.
For an introvert such as myself, you could even say it was horrifying.
Taking a piece of art that I’d poured hours of my life into and tacking it to a corkboard for 30 college freshmen to pass judgement on was basically my worst nightmare.
Every week I physically cringed in my discomfort and winced as they criticized my every artistic choice.
The worst comments came from my teacher, who was a hard ass and wouldn’t put up with our excuses and whining about our artwork.
After three weeks of terrible critiques on my work she said something that changed me forever.
“You know what your problem is? You’re afraid of drama. You’re afraid to be who you really are, and it shows in your work. You have to unleash the drama that’s in you. Let it out on the page.”
I was furious.
Who did she think she was? She didn’t know me! She didn’t have any say in how I create MY artwork!
I fumed for days over her comments. When the embarassment of the moment finally faded I made a decided effort to try to see things from her perspective. I looked through my sketchbooks and leafed through my portfolios. I thought about my typical behavior in my friend groups and relationships.
And damn it if she wasn’t right.
Page after page, project after project showed that when it came to art, I was playing it safe. When it came to life, I was playing it safe. I was always the diplomat, the responsible one, the rule follower. And while this made for a mostly safe existence free from risk, it didn’t make for good art.
Sure, I fulfilled the requirements of every project, my illustrations were technically correct. The shading was in all the right spots, the proportions were right. But there was no intrique, no risk, not a spot of drama to be found.
As someone who had spent a lifetime putting up walls so I wouldn’t have to deal with confrontation or emotions, I simply didn’t know how to emote on paper. Hell, I didn’t know how to emote in real life. I cringed and backed away from any drama that surrounded me, refusing to partake in it. I didn’t know how to bring drama to paper because I didn’t know how to handle my own drama within.
It took me years to learn how to unleash the drama. I thought I didn’t have it in me, but it was always there, lurking under the surface. All those years of repressed emotion didn’t just go away, they were bubbling under the surface, ready to come pouring out. All I had to do was direct it through my hands.
Decades of pushed away feelings, anger, and hurt came flooding into my consciousness. Things I’d conveniently forgotten came to the surface.
All of it ended up in my sketchbooks. I started using words along with illustrations. I stopped giving a damn about being technically correct and just let my emotion out on the page.
My art changed considerably that year. The depression that I’d been pushing deep down finally came up and out. I was able to confront the deep dark feelings that I’d been denying for a long time, maybe even a life time.
It’s incredible how art can do this for you, with you. You can use it as a tool to channel feelings you didn’t even know you had. In this way, what you make doesn’t need to be “good” or “correct.” Your art has a more important job. To make you feel whole. To free you from the angst built up inside. To help you finally feel free.