#15 was to get a child to draw a self-portrait so it can be compared to a later self-portrait. #16 was for me to do the same.
I picked up a pencil with some trepidation as drawing is not my forte. As I tried to get proportions vaguely right on paper and eyes not looking totally mad I thought about that one moment when a teacher complimented my drawing for the first time ever.
My parents, you won’t be really surprised to hear, weren’t interested in doing art, in being creative. The career prospects aren’t good and it’s all a bit airy-fairy. They quite like looking at art though although much of the very modern works completely pass them by. Now 1sis is an artist, talented but without great drive and listening to my father try to talk intellectually to her about her art when it’s all about emotions or it’s just done as experimentation without any great deep meaning behind it, is one of the most troubling conversations he has as he just doesn’t get it.
So I wasn’t much encouraged as a child. I did quite a bit of drawing on a blackboard that we had at home but don’t ever remember using paints (messy) or really having coloured pens or pencils. I probably did, but not that I remember and my parents certainly didn’t keep any of our childhood scrawls.
When I first studied art at school, I don’t really remember being taught how to draw. It was more the “draw a hand for next week” and rather than go home and spend a few hours on it, I’d do a ten minute quick piece. What was the point if no-one was going to teach me how.
Yet I wanted to learn. I had formulated the view, which I still hold, that even if you’re not a talented artist, you should be able to learn to draw representationally, so that the picture looks like what it’s supposed to. You should be able to sketch something competently if you are taught how. We tend to treat art as something you can only succeed at if you’re full of talent (imagine trying that same argument on a history teacher).
So I struggled in Art, didn’t put much effort in, neither did the teachers who concentrated on those with some talent, and I got nothing out of it. Then we moved back to England and I had one term before starting on O’ Level studies. Naturally I didn’t choose Art but still had to do it for that one term. I don’t remember being particularly motivated or enthused by the change of scenery at all until the end of term.
We had to do a drawing. We were going to take 3 or 4 double sessions over it so there was time to really concentrate, something I wouldn’t be bothered with if we were doing it as homework. The choice was between a bowl of fruit (how original) and a potted plant, one with long thin leaves every which way. I looked at the fruit and thought about curves and circles and decided to go for the plant. Only one other person in the class did it as well and she was one of the least liked in our class. Was this an omen?
Because I didn’t have any choice in it, I settled down and focused. I found it a logical picture to draw as the lines of the leaves all criss-crossed each other with no space in between so it was a lot easier picture to draw than a face. For the first time I thought I could actually make a picture that looked halfway decent.
My rival’s picture was neater and look prettier somehow but mine was the one that got an A+ (we didn’t have A* in those days). The teacher than astounded me by demanding that I did Art O’level as I was clearly talented. I think I explained that I’d never had any encouragement before and never really considered it and she still encouraged it. I vaguely remember mentioning it to my parents who were totally dismissive of such an unacademic waste of a subject.
Understandably I didn’t have the strength to fight this battle, and one drawing was not enough for me to accept that I could do Art as a subject and not fail it completely. Going round Art rooms of secondary schools today amazes me at the talent and hours that young people put into their work.
So that was that really. The opportunity to learn to draw never really came up again.
Going back to my self-portrait, I got as far as the basic shape of my eyes, lids and brows and gave up.
But what I am going to do is put learning to draw on my 10 year plan. It may turn out to be my 20 year plan, but that’s not important.
So although I’ve learned a different lesson from what may have been intended, I’ve been reminded of a moment in my life when I glimpsed at an alternative choice. Even if I turned that choice down, it was a great moment and one worth remembering.
P.S. I do of course keep a selection of my children’s drawings and artwork, encourage them to be artistic at home just for pleasure and pin pictures on the walls. And compliment them on their work as if it’s just as important as the other subjects.
Beautiful You, by Rosie Molinary is available at Amazon (click on the picture) and her website is Rosie Molinary