The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, February 10, 2016:


“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent van Gogh

This story may be familiar to some of you who have been here from the beginning, but I think it’s worth a bit of a repeat, given van Gogh’s statement above.

When I was an adult learner in the process of choosing the rest of the studies I needed to achieve my BA, one of the fields I chose was art.  I have always wanted to make art, but almost all of my artistic ventures received negative feedback.  Despite the fact that I have stellar artistic genes in my family, this apple fell far away from that tree and I knew I would never be able to paint or draw in a way that people would enjoy.

Part of the problem is that I have trouble with depth of field, even in everyday life.  This means I cannot do perspective.  I know the purpose of it, and I can do the beginners’ road or pathway that starts wide in the foreground, then narrows to the vanishing point somewhere in the background, but that’s all I can do.  Eventually I turned to photography so the camera does the depth of field for me.  I’m actually pretty good at it and I enjoy it, but it wasn’t the same.  I wanted to paint and draw – at least try to – so because I was blessed with a safe place to explore, one where I knew I wouldn’t be laughed at, I did a semester’s work doing just that.

That’s when I first read these words of van Gogh, and the account of how he’d been scorned and ridiculed but persevered and taught himself.  Imagine my surprise when I found that some of his early sketches look remarkably like my own attempts.

A little more exploration found the story of Grandma Moses.  She, too, was self-taught, painting first on a wooden fireplace screen and other things for her house and family.  She was 70 years old (or thereabouts) when that fireplace screen was ‘discovered,’ and the rest is history.  One has to do some digging, however, to find out that she also had trouble with perspective, and if you study her iconic paintings, especially her earliest ones, you’ll see how true that is.

The more I read about and studied the progress of these two and other artists, the more I found myself saying, ‘Okay, then.  I can do this, too!’  Then one day I was in a restaurant that had the work of a locally-famous folk art painter on the walls.  Looking at those paintings and prints, I realized there was no sense of perspective in them at all.  And soon I discovered that a whole heck of a lot of folk art has little to no perspective in it.  Woo hoo!

Even more important than all of this, I learned that my vision – my literal vision – and, therefore, my painting and my drawing, was just as valid as that of some of the most revered artists of all time.  Different, yes, but still valid – and valuable.  I’ll never be van Gogh or Grandma Moses, but that’s okay.  I’m not them.  I am and I will be Genie.

The most important thing I learned in that semester years ago, though, was that I had to try.  van Gogh was right: I learned I had to answer the voice inside my head.

So, please, if you have a voice that says you can’t write a book – or paint a piece of artwork, or dance, or design a house – please try.  Respond to that voice with a positive action instead!  My voice tells me you can and you will.


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