Lessons from a Sketchbook. Part One.
I’ve been artist my whole life. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that a lot of the skills I have developed come into play even when I am not creating something. For example:
Learn to See Possibilities in Everything
Thousands of years ago, some ancestor of humanity looked down at the earth where he had built a fire to cook his buffalo [or whatever] and noticed that the mud had crystalized and hardened. It was basically useless as it was, but over time, that ancestor learned that if he could control that process, he might make something useful out of the mud on the ground. Over time, people started making little vessels out of mud and putting them in fires to harden them. Before you knew it, there were clay pots and jars.
One of the first things I remember learning as an artist was something that I didn’t realize I had learned until way later on. But it has been the basis for every creative endeavor I have ever pursued, and I would argue the same is true for any artist. And it is this: The importance of learning to see things not for what they are, but what they have the potential to be.
That view of the world has informed every important breakthrough in human history, whether it was artistic, scientific, cultural, or economical. It’s not enough to take the world at face value. If you want to create something beautiful, you have to see past what it is by itself and see what it can be if you use it just right, if you twist just enough, if you put it with this other thing over here and see how they look together.
Clay is just mud. But somewhere a long time ago, someone thought, “I can make a pot with this dirt and water if I mix it just right.”
A pencil is just compressed dirt, paper is just mashed up trees. But someone saw them and thought, “I can do something with these.”
One man saw a block of marble and thought, “What a heavy rock.” Michelangelo saw the same block of marble and thought, “David.”
A true artist is not an artist because she can draw or paint. Anyone can learn the technical skills needed to render an image on paper with a pencil. An artist is an artist because she has looked at the world a little more closely than most people do, and because of that, has seen past the obvious and brought form to the obscure.
Whenever someone says “I’m no artist, I can’t even draw a straight line!” I’m fond of saying that no one can draw a straight line, it’s just that an artist knows how to make crooked lines beautiful. What I mean by that is that even the most beautiful painting you can think of is not perfect, it’s just that the imperfections are arranged in a beautiful way. The artist took something ordinary and did something wonderful with it.
That’s what art really is. Not skill in painting, but skill in finding something worthy to paint, even in the most boring or unexpected places. It is seeing the possibilities in the things you look at every day, and bringing them to life.
All it takes is a closer look at the world around you to see possibilities everywhere.