Relationship Status – ‘It’s Complicated’
by Sara Madani
My relationship with art has been a long term, but fickle affair. It’s filled with all the traits of an unhealthy relationship; it’s sporadic and plagued with doubt. I love art, I love drawing and painting and doodling, I get a certain kind of peace from it that I haven’t experienced with anything else. But the same thing that I care about so deeply, the thing that has been so gratifying to me for most of my life also makes my skin crawl when I have to acknowledge it.
I’ve always been timid about showing strangers things that I draw or what is in my sketchbook. The thought of having to discuss any of it with another person makes me want to run out of the room.
So it should come as no surprise that I cringe every time someone refers to me as an artist – I certainly never refer to myself as an artist. The word ‘artist’ intimidates me; it carries too much weight. What fuels that is a fear of failure. You can’t be a failed artist if you were never an artist to begin with. Despite art being such big part of my life all of my life, I’ve never given it my full attention, it has always just been something I enjoy doing on the side. I haven’t relied on it as career path or been consistent about it. So how could I ever call myself an artist?
So many of my insecurities with art revolve around the fact that I don’t know what I want my art to say. When I sit down and get to sketching or painting, I rarely know what I’ll end up with. I have a hard time explaining my creative process because I’m not too sure what it looks like. I never set out to communicate an idea, or depict some larger meaning with what I draw. I put way more active thought into the colours I’m going to use in a piece than the message I’m trying to send out with it. Sharing my art with other people hasn’t always come easy to me.
A couple of years ago, in an attempt ignite a new appreciation for making art and to get over my fear of commitment to it, I started an instagram page – hashtags and all. The aim was to create and post a new piece of art every single day for one hundred days. What ensued was a lot of late nights, frantic sketching in social settings and on random street corners.
Through the self imposed obligation to create every day and with the internet holding me accountable for it, I found myself far out of my comfort zone, falling into creative ruts and being pushed back out of them daily. I surprised myself with what I could do and disappointed myself with what I couldn’t, sometimes all in the same day. I found a small community of people who were actually invested in my art, who would give me encouragement and critique, who could find meaning where I was convinced there was none. It dawned on me that, though I struggle to find meaning in my own work, it doesn’t make my work void of meaning completely.
It felt great to rekindle my connection with art, I gained a lot of technical skills and a ton of fresh perspective. But the intimate, hard and fast relationship I developed with my sketchbook slowly fizzled out after the hundred days were over. I went almost a year without finishing a single sketch or painting. My water colours were all dried up and neglected. And so, my on again off again, non committal relationship with art, was off yet again.
I’m sure the many qualms I have about my art aren’t unique to just me. In fact, some of the best art, and some of my favourite artists, are heavily influenced if not fully charged by the same uncertainties and instabilities that I grapple with. I don’t know if art and I will ever settle down and get serious. I don’t know that I’ll ever be a fully fledged artist. Keeping my relationship with art so casual is definitely a cop out; it’s a surefire way to spare myself failure and heartbreak. But it doesn’t hold me back so much as it gives me freedom, and what’s more vital to the creative process than freedom?