To this day, my father still talks about how scarred he is from ever touching a box of crayons, because of his fourth grade art teacher, who told him that he would “never be a good artist.” Well, I don’t think I’m a very good artist. But I LOVE making art. And I think you should too.
I call myself an artist because I like making art. For me, it doesn’t matter where I’ve shown my art, what “techniques” I’m using, or who I’m selling it to. Art is my aliveness brought to fruition in a way that others can see and hopefully spot their own aliveness in as well.
Sometimes, I consider it a blessing that I have no formal art training. Not being savvy with technical art terms is an advantage when my lines aren’t perfectly shaped or my colors aren’t seamlessly blended. My oblivion and unashamed passion help to silence my inner critic. Whatever I paint, I create from the heart. I try to focus on the physical sensations of feelings my brush glide across the canvas, drenched in a juicy glob of heavy-bodied paint. I feel the bristles press against the stretched linen; I see each fiber drag across a mound of cherry apple red. As I guide my brush up and down my canvas, the repetitive gestures become meditative. I stop thinking, as I press down on my brush harder. The canvas then becomes an open channel to my soul, a clear-as-day lens into what can be sensed, but not seen. And now – here it is: in iridescent hues, glistening in silky splotches of wet paint.
In my studio, it’s just me and my creations. It’s the one place in life where I can ignore my inner critic because I tell myself I am just making a “beautiful mess.” When I made the decision to start showing my work elsewhere, I accepted that I’d have to grow some thicker skin.
Everyone’s got an opinion.
But kids will be honest about theirs.
This summer, I took my easel outside for a refreshing day of plain air painting. My art was featured in the windows of a shop in the downtown area, and this was the day where we were supposed to engage and interact with the customers.
One thing I noticed was how children really gravitated towards my work. There is a childlike, innocent quality to my art, an oblivion from not knowing what is “proper” technique. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time when I was stuck in the hospital for months after a disastrous surgery. My mother brought fabric, glue, paints and markers to my small hospital cubicle, and I made art for the first time. Suddenly, I found a way to express emotions that were too painful, complicated and overwhelming for words. I used everything – even toilet paper from the hospital bathroom. I painted my trees that I missed, I created my inside and outside worlds, full of their joy and pain, tears and hearts, lightning bolts and flowers. This art was my therapy, like the “me-books” we used to make in grade school.
So there I was with my easel, painting outside my storefront with my art proudly on display. I chose to work on a collage using old paints, newspapers, and whatever I grabbed on my way out. As an artist, I love being a scavenger. I really don’t care what ends up sticking on my collages – cardboard, old lids, plastic wrap, napkins – once it’s covered with paint, it can all look beautiful! For me, it’s about the process.
In the middle of my “process”, one child came up to me and stayed peering over my easel for a lengthy period. As we know, kids are fearless, free and oh so honest (You don’t wanna know the things that came out of my mouth as a kid!).
This child skimmed over my work for a few seconds longer and then declared, “I could do that! That’s just newspaper and scribbles!”
The mother was clearly embarrassed, but I was thrilled. Yes – this is exactly what I want people to come away with after seeing my art. If you call me an “artist”, then you are as well. Anyone can create. It just takes the guts to put yourself out there. That kid gave me the best possible compliment. So, I hope whoever sees my art walks away with the confidence that YES! They can do that too!
I love that children can make those impulsive, honest comments. Once we lose the ability to speak those thoughts out loud, it’s more difficult to hear those truths within us. That child realized he was capable of creating anything in that moment. In that afternoon, crowds of peopl looked over at my art, and because I was the “artist” – I was doing something that they “could not”. Mind made up – been there, tried that, failed, over and done.
Would you have been ashamed to tell me my “mixed media artwork” was just newspaper and scribbles?
The truth is, if adults could be as brutally honest as that child, they would also be able to consciously acknowledge this truth for themselves – they CAN create if they just silence their inner critic. It’s easier said than done, but maybe we just have to start with that honest child in us.
If you think you’ve already “grown up,” remember, it’s never too late to “grow down.”
Let’s all think like children for a bit and recklessly create what we’ve never seen, but have sensed, wanted, or just felt like. Don’t know what to start with? Start with newspaper. And scribble on it. Let’s keep revisiting our childhood memories, the feeling that anything was possible with a newspaper, silly putty, a slinky or a cardboard box.
Think about the last interaction or moment in your life that meant something to you. How simple was it? Maybe your special someone ripped out an article from today’s paper that he knew you’d like. Maybe he doodled on your daily planner, wishing you the best day ever. Because thoughts that are true, inspiring and from the heart are usually the simplest ones – straight out of an art project that a kid could do.
So the next time you see art in a gallery, an advertisement, a tee-shirt believe that you are capable of creating art.
When you read that I learned art recovering from surgery, walk away knowing that you are powerful enough to conquer any odds in your life with a bit of creative thinking and working with what you’ve got – even if it’s just newspaper.
When you read or hear of loss, pain, anger, frustration, joy, gratitude, fear, uncertainty, love and life, I hope you connect with that experience on a primal, intuitive level, and are even inspired to share YOUR story with someone else. Even if it’s a blank page for now. Or a blank canvas, whatever works.
Thank you art, thank you children, thank you detours.
With every blotchy “mistake” on your “canvas”, be empowered with the confidence to be innovative and think of a way to integrate the mistake into an even better design.
Let every very “insult” from a kid empower you with the satisfaction that you have possibly inspired a future creator.
Let every “detour” prompt an unexpected interaction with a new opportunity, a new person in your life, and a new direction.
Here’s to navigating our beautiful detours with a brush in hand, and our inner child as the lantern that guides us home.
And Dad, here’s to a fresh box of crayons.
This post was created by Amy Oestreicher. Support her artwork and help bring PTSD Awareness to the stage by becoming a patron on www.patreon.com/amyo
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright. She works individually with her innovative creativity coaching, business, speaking, and social media courses. As creator of her one-woman musical Gutless & Grateful , the #LoveMyDetour Campaign, which was the subject of her TEDx Talk, she’s currently touring theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Subscribe to her newsletter for updates and free excerpts from her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017. Get your free creativity e-book at amyoes.com/create and a free guide to getting a TEDx Talk at amyoes.com/discover.