Being "Good at"

"I'm no good at art." "I'm not crafty." "We're not sure he has the patience to work on something like this." "I am no kind of artist!"

I stand behind the counter at the front of our store a lot while people shop. It's honestly one of my favorite things to do - to watch people experience the place we've put together, and to find stuff they like there. Sometimes customers and I end up chatting about what they're looking for, or the weather, or where they're from. It's very cool.

However, one of the refrains I hear a LOT from people, is how bad they are at art.

"This place is great, I'm finding great presents for people, but I could never do any of this." It seems to be something deep in most of our psychologies that we must make excuses for ourselves when we're in a slightly uncomfortable place, or among a pile of products with which we are unfamiliar.

And - I want to be totally honest here - I do it too. A lot. It is so much easier to recite a long laundry list of the things we are "bad at," than to give ourselves credit for the things at which we excel.

To add further complication to this, art is an especially intense minefield of self-doubt, fear, and deflection. Art is a thing (is it even a thing?) that people often claim not to understand. It's something someone else does somewhere else for some unknown reason. It's scary and foreign, and "No, by God, us good solid Mid-Westerners don't really go in for that sort of nonsense."

Here are the things I want to say in these situations. Sometimes I do say them, couched in a joke to soften the message. But, most times I don't, because I'm not in retail to tell you you're wrong.

1. Have you ever tried?

An artist - as I define it anyway - is a person who expresses themselves through some media, and wants to figure out a way to tell their story. This is grossly oversimplified, and not even 100% true, but we'll say it's a working definition. Many people, and certainly the ones who make their living doing art, have worked very hard for a very long time to be able to do what they do. They heard something inside themselves a long time ago that said, "draw" or "paint" or "dance" or whatever it said. They decided to try, and something about that effort paid off in one way or another. They got better at it, and now they share what they do with people for money - or, maybe not. That sounds kind of weird when its said that way, but you get the picture.

Now, let's talk about you. Chances are you're not the person I just described. What you generally see and know is the art that is the end of the process from above - the result of a long struggle getting good at something. And that can be super impressive, moving even. 

The question is, can we engage in something at which we are not accomplished and feel good about doing it?

2. Do you want to be good?

We all want to be good at things. It feels good to shoot a basketball through the hoop, and making a particularly pretty loaf of bread is awesome. Neither of those things, however, happen without practice. Again. See above.

I don't think, though, that we generally expect to be good at sports or baking without some effort. Art, however, seems to live in a realm of its own for a lot of us, one that is purely inborn talent, and nothing else. Intellectually, we probably all know that's not the case, but the idea still seems pervasive.

So, if you can get around the fact that painting or making a clay pot is generally a set of learned skills and not some hand-of-god sort of gift, you can then make a decision in your life about whether or not you want to get good at that thing. Take a class, watch some videos, hack away at it in the basement. Whatever it takes, just start and learn and do.

If you don't want to do that, and you have made the conscious decision not to learn and practice a craft or a form of art, then you don't need to say you're no good at it. You haven't decided to be, and that's ok.

I haven't decided to learn how to fly an airplane, so I don't tell people that I'm no good at it. Dig?

3. What does it mean to be good at art?

This is a whole other question. I think I would define being "good" at art as having enough skills to express adequately the idea or feeling you're trying to impart. Simple as that... maybe.

There is also another level that I think is much more useful for people who aren't making art their whole thing - their bread and butter if you will. That is, does what you're making make you happy? If yes, awesome. If no, practice more or do something else, right? Ultimately, any sort of art/craft/making side hustle should be a thing that brings something to the table: satisfaction, calm, joy - whatever you want to call it.

If it doesn't do that, then why are you hammering away at it? Move on. Pick up the guitar maybe?

4. Whom do we need to impress?

Ultimately, the answer to this question should be just ourselves. But, I think we can all agree that that can be hard. I find it difficult to write or draw or paint or sing anything without thinking about how pleasing or not someone else might find it. We are social creatures, but that doesn't mean we do everything for someone else always. Still, that voice is there in me that says "this isn't good enough, you should stop." The trick, I suppose, is either ignoring that voice until you're done with the thing, or you get "better" at the thing. Or you can quit. But, you already bought all of those art supplies! 

So, to wrap up this wordy piece - you have our permission here at Cardboard Robot to cut yourself some slack. If you don't feel that you're "crafty" that's totally ok. You don't need to be if you don't want to be. If you DO want to learn something new, to try out a different medium, by gosh we're here for you. No judgement - because we're all just hacking away at this stuff anyway. You're plenty good, and we're proud of you.

Thanks for reading,






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