To say that I am grateful for “Art” makes me sound like a bit of a creative, Bohemian type. “Oh I just love my art, dahling, it is my outlet, my sanctuary…”. I feel like I should have my hair pinned into a messy bun, a scarf kookily draped, a scuff of paint brushed across my cheek, floating barefoot through my tastefully decorated home, where the light is “interesting” and the space has a wonderful essence and energy…
Art is not me, it is fair to say. The above paragraph perfectly summarises the stereotyped image I have of artists, and if it sounds disparaging, it’s certainly not meant to. I envy them, the real artists. I would love to be that person. I think of myself as a creative sort, but the creativity exists mainly in my head – when I come to capture it on a page, in swathes of colour, or pencil marks (or sounds from a piano keyboard, come to that), it just never seems to resemble the idea (the ideal) that I had imagined. Something is lost in translation, and that has always made me resistant to trying.
In this past year, however, I have discovered the joy of the badly drawn anything. Last summer, a friend and I embarked on a summer project to work through the pages of a book called “Mess” by Keri Smith. The introduction to this book exclaims,
“Your whole life you’ve been taught to avoid making a mess: try to keep everything under control, colour inside the lines, make it perfect, and at all costs, avoid contact with things that stain.” It then implores you to “Not try too much” with a reassurance that “there is no wrong”. I first purchased this book about five years ago, and its suggestion of imperfection as entirely acceptable, whilst appealing, was also nonsensical to me at the time. I believed that you either did something well or did not do it at all. This meant that, artistically at least, I did nothing at all.
What was I so afraid of? I mean, I know the answer to that. The thing we are all afraid of – failure. Yet I had allowed this fear to paralyse me into a state of not just possible failure, but of guaranteed failure by default. So I worked through the tasks in the book, which often bordered on the ridiculous – bury the book for three days then dig it up (“It will get dirty!” Er, yes, yes it will!); create a repeating pattern with ten colours and then make a mistake (“I’m sorry – WHAT?!”) – and I discovered that wrong can be beautiful. Mistakes can be better than the “correct” planned version. Imperfections are wonderful things and – get this – deviating from the plan can be, actually, sort of ok. Ish.
So for the past few months, my six-year-old and I have spent holidays and weekends experimenting with paints and pens, cutting and sticking, tracing and copying. We have an entire Pinterest board devoted to good ideas from other people’s art journals that we intend to blatantly steal and copy from, and we take great pride in discovering that our attempts bear little or no resemblance to the original sources of inspiration. One of our most beautiful pieces is made entirely out of ripped up scraps of a rainbow drawing which went horribly wrong, resulting in a tearful tantrum and tearing frenzy (from the six-year-old, not me I am happy to report!). Something wonderful came out of the potential disaster, and it was even better.
This revelation came at just the right time in my life. To discover the joy of the unplanned and the beauty of imperfection in the year I was diagnosed with MS has truly been a gift.