I have been reading parts of Mona Brookes’s admirable book “Drawing with Children,” which as its subtitle  “A creative method for adult beginners, too” suggests, holds lots of good advice for drawing new-comers of whatever age.  She treats the matter of confidence early since she has seen how significant a role confidence — or its lack — plays in deciding whether someone will draw or not.

She has a series of statements she offers her readers to contemplate, and the degree to which you agree or disagree with the statement provides an interesting measure of how confident you are.  I get her point and second the motion, but I also see another side to these statements that deserves scruntity, for all the confidence questions are pretty complicated and they never entirely go away, and indeed it is essential that they not go away.

So let’s contemplate her statement number one:  “The ability to draw is inherited.”

If you think the statement is true, you are not likely to feel very confident unless you believe that you inherited the skill.  The question can be rephrased differently: what evidence suggests that you did or did not inherit a drawing ability?  Does the person who has inherited drawing aptitude just instantly begin drawing things?  Or is aptitude more subtle?

I could not draw reliably well in those days when I first attempted it.  I might have answered the inheritance question “yes” on one day and “no” another.  Or even hourly, I could have said resolutely “yes” when my first drawing came out remarkably well and then “no” when the second drawing was a total flop.

There is almost certainly a hereditary element in any skill.  It’s obvious that some persons are naturally better at a thing than their neighbors even from their earliest days.  But talents can unfold in such complex ways, that personally I’m inclined to say that strong desire is probably always a sign of talent.  You may not know how to do a thing, but if your heart longs for it reliably, day after day, the odds are good that you have an innate ability.  The question then becomes are you willing to do the work?  Are you willing to work hard enough to make that ability-in-potential something tangible and real?

I learned to draw in a manner radically different from what Mona Brookes outlines for her beginners.  And while I don’t dispute the efficacy of her method, I see it having some problems if one adheres to its philosophy much beyond the beginner stage.  Part of not-knowing how to do something is the impetus to learning.  And all methods that attempt to smooth over the discomfort of not-knowing have the affect of smoothing over invention.

If you cannot do something in art, count yourself very lucky because in the discomfort of trying to figure it out you will learn something that no step-by-step method ever glimpses.

[Top of the post: Drawing by my daughter when she was elementary school age.]

13 thoughts on “Musings on confidence

  1. Very interesting. I think that what is referred to as “talent” is merely having a certain way of seeing come naturally, and some people do have that. But if one wants to, one can be trained. I think having a parent or teacher believe in you and encourage you in your early attempts is more important. I’ve met many adults who say they used to love to draw, but an art teacher once told them that they “have no talent”, so they gave it up forever. So I try to never use the word “talent”, especially to a child.

  2. It’s always sad whenever someone gives up a skill that makes them glad, and doubly sad when the discouragement comes from a party who should be helping — like a teacher. The question of confidence is tricky because at the beginning it can be such an enormous obstacle, but over-much confidence has its perils too.

    People who have drawn for a long time and know that they have skills still need a bit of doubt for the sake of their going into new directions. That might seem to be a different problem than the one the newbie experiences but I think sometimes it’s just a question of degree.

    Sometimes I wish I could get back again the eagerness and the confusion that I experienced as a beginner. Because it has advantages as well as problems. I am always seeking beginnings myself and the kind of innocence one has with it. All that gawky intensity of feeling and desire to learn!

    Thank you for your comment, Amy.

  3. I have always been against the idea of talent, finding it too elitist. Giving the workshops, I can see that some people do have more affinities to making art than others, but as you say the slower one, with encouragement, catch up. So, is there an ability to draw, in the brain? Probably, but I think that ability can be develop if the person wants too. So to me the question is more why some people wants to draw and others prefer to sing? It is a bit like the egg and the chicken, who is first?

  4. Oh no, Ben! Don’t be against talent. Some peoplel have talent and it’s unkind to deny them their talent … don’t you think? I will never play the violin like Anne-Sophie Mutter. She’s a genius. I could not have played like that if I had begun as a child, and yet I still play the instrument and get enormous pleasure both from my own playing and from listening to the great musicians.

    And Degas was like Mutter as a draughtsman, yet he was my first hero. His talent never discouraged me — ever. It made me love drawing. Without people of enormous talent, we have no where to aspire. They show what is possible.

    Of course Degas, truth be known, probably was a bit of a snob — and a curmudgeon — but hey — we all have moments. Sometimes I’ve got an attitude too!

    Since it’s possible to be a snob or a bore without talent, in some measure the presence of talent softens the blow!

    Anyway, it occurs to me, Ben, that you have no idea how much talent YOU have. What you do seems so natural to you because it’s what you do. But you have no idea how difficult the skills you have would be for others. I have drawn for over thirty years and yet I could never do anything remotely like your Pompi drawings. I have no idea how you envision scenes that way or how you direct the marvelous and magical lines.

  5. Desire and ability both, Ann. The thing about ability is that it’s very hard to see. Desire is much more manifest. We have it nudging us constantly when we really want something. And through desire — if it is strong enough — in time we discover the ability!

  6. I certainly believe that some people have more talent than others. Look at Mozart. Talent is a mystery. Nobody knows why some people have talent in a given area and others don’t. However, even if one does not have a lot of talent for a specific skill, drawing for example, one can learn the skill with sufficient desire and and a lot of practice.

    I am 71 years old. Four years ago I wanted to paint with watercolor. I really hadn’t picked up a paint brush or a drawing pencil since kindergarten. Therefore, in my own mind I couldn’t draw. So I began to trace photos and then paint them. But then I took a class called “Anybody Can Draw.” That class led me to begin taking a Life Drawing class, which has been ongoing since. I now paint or draw most days and have more than 200 pieces. I’m getting to the point where now I need a studio and can possibly sell some of my work.

    I don’t attribute any of this to inheritance or talent. I am fortunate to have the time, the desire to create, and love of art.

  7. Wow, Frank, that is super. Love is a great teacher. It’s amazing what a person can accomplish when he just decides that it’s what he wants to do.

  8. Thank you all for your kind comments. To Amy Mann: I have photos of my work, but I don’t know how to show them to you.

    Frank W.
    San Francisco

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