“You just aren’t good enough to make it.”
I couldn’t believe the words when I first heard them. My high school art teacher told me these words just after he completed grading my celebrity portrait sketch assignment. There is no need to call out my art teacher by name because honestly, he was operating in the belief that it was in my best interest. But, we will discuss that more in a bit.
Nonetheless, the words stung. I had always dreamed of being an artist, it was one of the few careers I could imagine doing. But after he said those words, I slowly started to compare my work to my peers to find that he was right, I just wasn’t that good.
I had been drawing since I was young, yet my friends and classmates who just picked up a pencil months prior were following instructions and completing incredible celebrity portraits. When I compared my work to theirs, there was no comparison. Their work was hands down better than my own, despite me having spent far more time at the craft. I knew my teacher was right, so I put down my pencil and brush. I didn’t attempt anything artistic for the next decade of my life.
DREAMS AND IDEAS ARE FRAGILE
If you get a chance, pick up and read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The book provides an incredible and unbiased look into Steve Jobs’ life and career. You will come to envy Steve’s ability to hone in on a vision, and you will probably also come to despise his methods of achieving it. Regardless, Steve Jobs understood that the best dreams and ideas start as something incredibly fragile, something easily overlooked or squashed.
Many big thinkers will encourage you to keep your dreams and ideas to yourself, and I would have to agree with these individuals. Most of the time our dreams and ideas come at us as vague and incoherent messes, and while we can see so clearly through that mess towards an ultimate vision, your friends and family most likely will not. Give your dreams and ideas the time you need to mature and be organized into a cohesive plan before sharing them and even at that, be extremely careful who you share them with.
My advice, don’t share them with anyone but your closest friend who can help you to analyze objectively and encourage you once you make a decision.
YOUR BEST INTEREST
My high school art teacher, my father, my friends and family around me, all of them have something in common; they all believe that they had my best interest at heart. Your friends and family believe the same thing, that they have your best interest at heart, and for this reason, there is no point in getting upset or resenting them for what you perceive as “not believing in you.” In reality, your friends and family love you and are acting out of their own fears on your behalf which we will discuss in a later article.
My high school art teacher was a great artist, yet he struggled to make a living outside of teaching. His advice to me makes complete sense from his point of view. “Boy, if I struggle to make a living being that much better than Pye at his age, then he’s truly not going to make it.” For all intents and purposes, as a painter/sketch artist, he was most certainly spot on.
What he didn’t understand was WHY I wasn’t a good sketch artist. He wasn’t judging my ability as a creative, he was simply basing his advice off of one medium of art, sketching.
WHY I SUCKED
Only later in my life did I realize why I sucked at sketching and painting. I am the kind of person that needs variety, I get bored when I work on one thing too long. I need to achieve a result and push forward towards the next thing. That’s just who I am.
When I look back at my high school sketch portraiture, it’s so easy to see this trait manifest in my artwork. In fact, it’s kind of hilarious. I would start a sketch, and I would work really hard on a small piece of it. That small area, maybe it was the sail on a sailboat or the eye of a person, it would look amazing. But, then after a few hours, I’d get bored, and while I might spend 4-8 hours on a single small area of the image, I’d then spend the next 2 hours finishing the entire sketch.
So every single sketch would have one small area that looked great, surrounded by a whole bunch of awesomely below-average crap.
I was a creative at heart, but the medium was incorrect. My teacher had no way of knowing this, nor did he really have any method of testing it.
PICKING UP A CAMERA
Despite being a creative at heart, when I picked up the camera for the first time in 2008 (nearly 12 years after quitting art altogether) I was terrible; I made every classic mistake as you can see below.
From lighting to composition to post processing, it was all bad. But, I was in the right medium for my personality. I could go out, shoot, work on something for a day, learn, and then move on to my next shoot. I fell in love with the process (something I discussed in my last Slice of Pye article) and I continued to push forward hungrily absorbing every bit of knowledge, training, experience and education available.
During this process of bridging the “artistic gap” is when it’s absolutely crucial to shut out the naysayers (I will discuss this in the next ‘Slice‘). My work has grown tremendously from where it was, but I am still in no way satisfied. I will always continue to push forward in my desire for progress and growth.
In the end, I am grateful for my friends, family, and even my high school art teacher. They have taught me valuable lessons about the importance of failure, not as a destination, but as a required step along any journey of progress.
I’m incredibly grateful to be where I am and do what I do today, because I was the guy who should’ve quit art long ago.
Check out the other posts in the series ‘Slice Of Pye’:
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