Understanding where you are in the creative process.
When I was growing up coloring beside my older sister, it was a pure joy to create. We spent hours painting by number or drawing houses, clothes, and horses. We would take our finished projects into my parents and asked them which one they liked better.
After a while I began to realize that my parents always picked my sister Lynette’s pictures as their favorite. She was two years older than me, but that fact didn’t register in my brain. It wasn’t until we switched pictures one day, with me holding up Lynette’s picture and she holding up mine, and they still picked her’s, that I realized I wasn’t a good artist. I still remember that sinking feeling of discouragement. While the rest of my siblings all took art classes and became quite good, I turned to music. I didn’t think I had any creative gene of an artist in me, even though I was a musician
In my previous post “Why We Long For Beauty,” I wrote about how our soul not only longs for beauty, but how we also desire to create it. What I’m also learning is it’s okay to accept ourselves wherever we are on that creative path. Being an amateur creator is completely okay and here’s why.
When we think of the word “amateur,” we think of someone who is a non-professional, unpaid, still incompetent or learning a particular task. One synonym for amateur is actually a “bungler.” But amateur, is actually a French word which means “lover of”. It is someone who does a task for the sheer joy and love of doing it.
While I have a hard time calling myself a writer or an artist, I feel much more comfortable labeling myself an amateur. I am an amateur writer, a bungling artist, an apprentice photographer who is getting better by practicing my art. I do it because I love the work. Comparing myself with an author who has written best-sellers, or my sister’s artwork who completed art school, is unfair.
An apprenticeship during the Middle Ages consisted of working for free in exchange for the practical experience they would gain. Apprenticeships sometimes lasted ten years before an individual could put out their own shingle and be considered a master at their craft.
I think of being an apprentice when I practice my writing or my art. Being good at it overnight or expecting others to like or admire it, is unrealistic. My job is just to enjoy the art, even bungle around with it. I may not even notice the improvement, but with time and practice, I will learn, grow, and get better. The key is to keep creating even when it is hard, discouraging, or imperfect. Doing the art for the love of it, not because you get paid or applauded.
When I’ve had discouraging times of writing and have stopped for a few days, I’ve quickly realized that I can’t quit. It is inside me and the words have to come out, even if they are only for me. I look back at the stacks of journals I have written in over the years and realize, it has always been there inside of me.
There is art inside of you too. Maybe you’ve suppressed it for years, like I did because I thought I wasn’t any good. I compared myself to others – my first mistake. Then I thought I had to be pretty good at it before I put my artwork out there. Wrong again. I have never forgotten something my pastor said years ago:
“You get good at something by first being bad at it.”
– David Ridge.
This is what an apprenticeship or being an amateur means. Giving ourselves permission to be bad at something, to even be bunglers at whatever new area we are trying to work in. It’s giving ourself the time and space to learn from others, make mistakes, and grow from them.
My drawing journal
While you may be uncomfortable saying you are an artist, writer, photographer, chef, cabinet maker, etc. Maybe you can say, “I am an amateur, or an apprentice” and feel comfortable about where you are at. Maybe this word amateur “lover of” can give you the freedom to experiment, explore, and create without self-condemnation or comparison of your work to others.
Ask yourself these questions:
What would you do even if you never got paid for it?
What do you enjoy so much that when you do it time flies by?
Have you let comparison keep you from creating?
Have you let perfection or failure keep you from starting?
What did you enjoy in childhood that you haven’t done in years?
What fills your soul, spirit, body tank back up after you’re done?
Whose art do you admire? What can you learn or copy from them?
Do you know anyone with the same creative passion you could meet with regularly to encourage each other?
Every professional had to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to begin something new that has been in your heart. Age doesn’t matter. Find that area you love and be an amateur at it with complete abandonment. Amateurs are free to fail, to make mistakes, to try again and again until we get it right and some day we will, if we don’t give up.