Life Lessons from Art Classes

by Belinda Munoz on September 13, 2010

paint palette 2

No, I’ve never posed nude for a bunch of would-be Rembrandts.

Many years ago, I put my comfort zone to the test in a big-for-me way.  My philosophically trained brain – – tired of the constant hammering that reason was inflicting on my unmethodical spirit – – led me to take art classes.  This was truly a logic-defying move since two-dimensional art was not at all my forte.  My skill level at the time hovered around stick figures and coloring like a pre-schooler.  Enthusiastic, yes.  Technically skilled, not even close.

I had just read the book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  It convinced me that I could learn to make figures, faces and scenery come to life on paper or canvas.  I signed up for a few classes.  I began to transfer colors, contours and corners with life-like rendering onto what once was a blank white space.  Sure enough, I learned to draw and paint.  Once I got past being overly self-critical, I started to like some of my work.  Soon, I was showing my better pieces to anyone who took an interest in the obnoxiously big drawing pad and easel I carried around all over town.  A friend of a friend even requested a painting from me.  One of my pieces hung in a classroom for years; duly complimented and thoroughly loved.

I remember some of the conversations I had with the disbelievers.  Most of them insisted that I was able to learn to draw because I already had the talent; that they wouldn’t have been able to make anything come to life on any flat surface because they lacked it.  Oh, how I would’ve agreed with them had I not dared to cross that bridge.  And because I made it to the other side, I vehemently disagreed.

Now, I’m no Michelangelo (or Betty Edwards), and I would never claim to be a gifted illustrator or painter, but once upon a time, I used charcoal and paintbrushes and made pretty pictures.  And I learned to do this long past the purported critical first five years of life.  Had I chickened out from this comfort zone-thwarting idea, I would not have learned that:

It’s never too late to discover a newfound talent or learn something new.
A lot of people measure their willingness to pick up a new skill according to their age.  I often hear I’m too old for that and I’m sure I, too, have said it myself.  But this type of thinking can be needlessly limiting.  At the very least, it sucks out that sense of adventure, further gluing that proverbial arse to inertia when what it desperately needs is a good a-rattlin’ and a-shakin’.

Logic is not everything. Anyone who had seen my Crayola conceptions would for sure have thought that art classes were ill-advised.  I showed zero potential prior to taking lessons.  But, had I ignored this utterly unreasonable voice within me that was aching for non-verbal articulation, I would still be cursing logic’s absence for why certain things happen that absolutely shouldn’t.

Some pre-conceived notions are false.
For much of my life, I never thought I could draw or paint.  What a lie and how I fell for it hook, line and sinker.  I was negating a valid part of me to myself no less, well into my adult years.

There’s more from which it came. My ability to draw and paint?  My willingness to learn along with some good teachers unearthed it.  Other skills, talents, capabilities?  Wherever these things come from, they’re there, in ample supply, waiting to be activated, honed, transmitted and shared with others.  What’s even better is, this is true for each of us.  This, I’m convinced of, just as much as I believed I could learn to draw and paint before I ever took a formal class as an adult.

So, it seems that art, after all, has some practical value.

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  • What do you think?
  • Does this sound like illogical crazy talk?
  • Have you ever done anything that defied logic and brought you a new layer of awareness?
  • How do you unglue your proverbial arse from inertia?
  • Are we westerners hooked on logic, chasing it where there’s none, and prizing it too highly and at the expense of less cerebral but equally important things?

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Image by Valerie Everett

{ 2 trackbacks }

Life Lessons from Art Classes — the halfway point « Five Little Rules
September 13, 2010 at 3:57 am
On the Magnificence and Wholeness of Our Masterpiece — the halfway point
January 3, 2011 at 3:08 am

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TheKitchenWitch September 13, 2010 at 5:16 am

How brave of you to take art classes! As you know, I’m struggling to learn about and improve my photography (it would probably go faster if I had the guts to take a class) and my progress is slow. But still, it’s a challenge, and it reminds me that I’m not such an old dog that I can’t learn a new trick.

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2 Aging Mommy September 13, 2010 at 5:34 am

I agree, generally speaking it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. I learn something new each and every day thanks to my three year old daughter. But learning things later in life can be a lot harder, like skiing which I first tried at the grand old age of 30. I got better and good enough to really enjoy it but I will never be an amazing skier. But then learning something later in life and succeeding to whatever extent you are able is also immensely satisfying. For me the goals now are my photography and writing and I intend on giving both my very best effort.

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3 Tess The Bold Life September 13, 2010 at 7:19 am

I took my first art classes in my early 20’s through community ed. I then taught the classes after the teacher moved on. I’ve not had formal art classes. However one of my hobbies used to be painting furniture.

Last week I ordered Inktense (water color pencils) from Amazon after reading a blog on how fun they are. This week I’m going to open them and explore. I also thought I see if YouTube had a video. For me art isn’t about the outcome all the time.

I need to be creative for me. My soul cries for it. Wish me luck!

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4 Nadia Ballas-Ruta ~ Happy Lotus Lifestyles September 13, 2010 at 7:54 am

Hi Belinda,

I am right brain dominant and can I tell you it is hard to be in a world where everyone is left brained dominant. It sometimes is amusing because people will say things that just do not make any sense to me. The world is full of possibilities. The trick is to see and read beyond the lines and see what is there. Nothing is impossible. When people are open to seeing the fact that life is so much more than what we see…then people will enjoy life so much more.

Actually…all the people that we hold in high regards were people who broke the norm. So I say forget about being “normal”…just discover your own potential and just run with it. Life is too short to waste on being mediocre or “normal”. That is cute for sheep but for not human beings.

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5 rob white September 13, 2010 at 8:15 am

Well said, Belinda. Grandma Moses is one of my heroes precisely because she created herself to become a painter very late in life. There is no age limit on authentically expressing ourselves.

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6 The Exception September 13, 2010 at 10:20 am

It is wonderful that you took the classes and worked with colors. Logic is great as far as it goes, but it is black and white and… sorry to say it, dry. I often don’t know if there is room for logic in all aspects of life, but then I am a qualitative analyst! (And there is no logic in the gray that is qualitative analysis!)
A friend and I were talking just last week about her desire to jump into art again with her son who is 3.5 – and how that was scary. I understood completely. Despite each of us being creative when we were younger, there is a little fear with that risk now that we are older and more aware of the world and the thoughts of others. The idea of finger painting appeals and yet there is that voice that says “you are too old.”
But we are never too old!!

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7 Rudri September 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I love this Belinda. I think it is great that you took the leap and are now enjoying your journey in the art world. About 4 years ago I decided to take up running. I thought I couldn’t run outside and had convinced myself of it, but slowly I started building miles and now I can’t imagine my life without running. Everything is in the attempt, right? Bravo!

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8 Sara Healy September 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Belinda,

YOU GO GIRL!!! I hope you are still drawing and painting????

You are right, I know I often think, “Oh, I could never do that.” And once I begin to think this, of course I never do whatever it is:~)

Photography is my thing now and I identified with the comment by TheKitchenWitch. I struggle to even read the books about my camera. But, I recently signed up for a writing and photography class on-line. Granted it’s not going to teach me all the bells and whistles I could be using on my camera, but I think it will stretch me to do new things with photography and writing.

I like that you stretched yourself and discovered that a preconceived belief wasn’t true, after all:~)

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9 Katie September 13, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Great stuff, Belinda. Sounds like you’ve discovered a whole new world in your painting. I took it up myself a few years back and found it very liberating. It actually started to inform my writing, allowing me to flow in new directions and let go the end result and just experiment. Let is expand and inform your life.

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10 BigLittleWolf September 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I agree with you that we can learn – even older. But I think the way we learn may differ, and our ability to retain as well.

We also have a certain propensity to pick up some new skills more easily than others – for instance – mechanical things are terribly difficult for me. I can learn, but it takes repetition. The visual? The verbal? A different matter.

Very brave of you to step out of your comfort zone! I wish more of us would – if nothing else as an example to our kids. But also, because even if learning is a little slower or more circuitous as we age, it’s no less satisfying or useful.

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11 Preeti @ Heart and Mind September 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Belinda,

Art in life is amazing and so powerful. I also oil paint and sketch in my rare free time, I used to do it much more before kids came along and it always gave me peaceful effect afterwards. Maybe some day I will share these painting, poems on my blog.

I love to see your art work too! Art is beautiful in other artist (even armatures ones) eyes.

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12 Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce September 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm

A few years ago when I was going through a difficult period in my career and my marriage, I took a pottery class, thinking that I would feel creative, inspired, and liberated from my worrying. But instead it was extremely difficult. I just had no talent for working the clay on the wheel. It really kicked my ass.

Luckily I have continued to try new things and have found them to be exhilarating. Just last Friday, I tried hula hooping with my kids and some friends in our local park and had a blast. There was no logic there. No thinking. Just hypnotic twirling. It was awesome.

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13 Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce September 13, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Oh and trying new things releases happy hormones in our brains, so keep it up!

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14 Sandra Lee September 13, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I love the inspiration of this post. I too think I cannot draw or paint, but I actually love doodling with colors. It’s all about taking a chance on something new and different. A beautiful idea.

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15 Patty - Why Not Start Now? September 13, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I love this topic, Belinda. Years ago I went to a workshop, and the facilitator said that by the time we’re 30, we’ve developed a whole bunch of skills that we’re good at. But that doesn’t mean we like using them. And the key to life satisfaction going forward is to identify new skills we’re excited about learning, or skills that we feel passionate about. This has been true for me as well as for my clients. I don’t think talent has much to do with that, but it’s more about passion and interest. If we’re interested enough, we can learn it.

Yet still, I often get calls from people who are tired of their jobs or want to reinvent themselves, and they say, “I want to figure out what else I can do with my skills.” Turns out what they’re really yearning for is to learn something new, to shake up their lives. But you’re right, logically clinging to our self-perceived skill sets gives us a sense of safety, and by saying, “I’m not good at that” we keep from having to step out and risk.

Oh, and the creative thing: I always think of the old story that goes if you ask a group of five-year-olds if they’re artists, they’ll all raise their hands. But ask a group of 25-year-olds the same question, and you’ll be lucky if one or two raise their hands. Sad. I think everyone has the heart of an artist, even if they never get beyond drawing stick figures.

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16 Aileen September 13, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Belinda, I am ecstatic to read this! …and I wonder why you don’t have a tweetmeme plug-in so we can all retweet it.
This is such a wonderful encouragement!
“Other skills, talents, capabilities? Wherever these things come from, they’re there, in ample supply, waiting to be activated, honed, transmitted and shared with others. What’s even better is, this is true for each of us.”

– and I love this thought, “Oh, how I would’ve agreed with them had I not dared to cross that bridge. And because I made it to the other side, I vehemently disagreed.” Isn’t it just amazing what happens when we dip our toes in the water and cross over even if it appears that we have ‘no talent’ – it’s phenomenal just how much we can grow, transcend & transform.
With dance, I also began with no natural talent. I really do think the reason I love it so deeply is because oh how much care and effort I put in and each little piece of progress was euphoria. Perhaps, when we don’t have “natural talent” – through our process we gain a deeper understanding and love for the craft itself.

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17 Christine LaRocque September 14, 2010 at 4:29 am

This story is delightful and inspirational. And you are right? Why are we so quick to question things? Why can’t we just try? So few of us are willing and I would imagine we miss so much. This post leaves me with some food for thought today.

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18 Meg - Minimalist Woman September 14, 2010 at 8:14 am

Art is my real passion, is what I’d rather be doing than anything else along with certain forms of writing. But even inside art there are many forms and techniques, always new things to try. I’ve taken up impasto after decades of working flat, and seeing possibilities anew with every attempt. This makes it as exciting as if it was something totally new.

American culture is decidedly career-oriented and thus logic-oriented, even though in the larger scheme of things it doesn’t make much sense. If you have an artistic brain, it is deadly to spend so many hours of your life in a logic-oriented environment.

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19 Lauren September 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

Dear Belinda,

I love this piece and what it represents – an openness to experiencing life in a myriad of ways! Your learning to paint is so cool!

Recently I began taking djembe drumming lessons in a group. I’ve had a djembe but never played it until recently. During my first class an “older” woman walked in, watched a few minutes, and said “I’d never be able to do that”.

It saddens me to hear people limit themselves in this way. I couldn’t play “well” myself, but I decided to have fun with it and I love it!

I’m also just learning to hula hoop (I want to learn how to do the cool moves) and spend hours hooping to music. I’ve been boggie boarding a lot this summer. Maybe soon I’ll learn to surf (and 56-year olds CAN learn to surf!).

My promise to myself is to try new things even when I’m not one of the “stars” of the class. I’m not a “dancer” but I can move my body just fine thank you very much. Just got Gabrielle Roth’s 5 rhythms and have been bopping around the house like there’s no tomorrow – because really tomorrow isn’t promised is it?

Life is a wonder and I want to enjoy all the wonders I can.

Thanks for a great reminder – we can participate fully and enjoy ourselves.

And, yes, as a culture I think we worship the logical and denigrate the feminine. How great that we can choose something else for ourselves, a more life-affirming joy seeking playful beingness.

It’s great having the image of you painting as a beacon for what is possible. You warm my heart with your wisdom, contribution, and openness to life, Belinda.

Love,
Lauren

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20 Angela Artemis September 14, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Hi Belinda,
I think you were very brave to take an art class when you felt it wasn’t something you had a natural talent for. I do think we can learn new things though – and we’re never too old! When we paint we really are drawing on another side of our normal logical thinking minds. I think we get into a whole different zone where we can lose ourselves and let something bigger flow through us and create.

I think there’s something to be said for stretching your mind beyond comfortable limits. It has a greater impact on you than if what you’re doing came easily. You might really get more out of it and appreciate it more too.

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21 Jessica September 14, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Wonderful post. Really loved reading it!

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22 Justine September 15, 2010 at 7:46 am

I doubt myself all the time. Second guess. Too old. Too intimidating. Too little time. All these excuses and more prevent me from the things I’d really like to try, like taking French and photography classes. My hangup is that my dad brought me up to want to excel only, not just to try, and the fear of mediocrity has crippled me.

As a mom now, I know just how foolish that is. But undoing years of training is proving harder than I thought. But like you, perhaps I will muster up the courage someday and embark on a new journey. Maybe even lose my way a few times and still find joy in the unexpected places. Because you’re right. You’ll just never know until you try…

Thank you thank you thank you.

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23 Timoteo September 16, 2010 at 9:08 am

It seems I was meant to view this post. I’ve been seriously considering taking a drawing or painting class, even though I know I have no talent (yet) at it. When I was very young, I loved to draw my own versions of pictures from the comic books I read, and I remember that I was pretty good at it. Then, a comment someone made about what I was doing (I took it as negative and cruel–though I now know it was meant as constructive criticism) had the effect of stunting my fledgling interest in and ability for doing art. But it has lived in the back of my mind for all this time, and I will take what you have written here to heart.

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24 Belinda Munoz September 18, 2010 at 7:58 am

I was so happy to read your comment, Timoteo. I hope you take the plunge and explore the drawing/painting side of your brain again. If you haven’t seen the book I referred to by Betty Edwards, I highly recommend you checking it out at you at local library. There’s a cool exercise where you look at an image upside down,draw what you see, and when you turn it right side up, the outline looks perfect.

It’s so true that for people who have a strong pull to create, comments from others can sometimes have a profound and lasting effect; sometimes negative. These days, I remind myself that what I write or make won’t please everyone (not even close) and that’s not my goal anyway. It has helped me keep going (so far).

Thanks for stopping by! I’ll watch out for your future One Shot entries.

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25 Donna Willingham September 17, 2010 at 1:42 am

I agree that you’re never too old to learn something new. I’ve found I’ve have extraordinary success later on, both in my business life and personal life, and that was all down to learning simple tricks and tips to boost confidence and communication skills. I feel I should share with you an amazing course I did in Cairo that I found life changing – Sarah Merron of Fire Dragon Coaching teaches strategies that really helped me focus on getting the best out of myself and others around me. She runs courses all over the world, so it’s a fantastic way to travel at the same time. Here’s the link, I found it had a very powerful effect on my life: http://egyptnlptraining.com/

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26 Belinda Munoz September 18, 2010 at 8:01 am

Thanks for stopping by, Donna, and for sharing about your experience with a life changing course.

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