I’m currently teaching A Girl with No Talent. She’s 18, and for the past six years or more she’s been informed that she has no artistic talent. Yet she has decided that she likes art and wants to take it as an examination subject in her final school year. Moreover, she would like to study architecture.
So I’m coaching a supposedly hopeless case four hours a week, trying to prepare her for her final graduation exhibition which is in about thirteen months. I’m still not sure what made me agree to try and help this girl, because I too, upon seeing some of her previous artwork did not feel at all hopeful- objectively, her drawings were at the level of a ten year old child. My head thought no but my instinct knew better. After years of teaching art, I have seen over and over how patience, encouragement, and deeper psychological insight can make a big difference. How big this difference can be I’m now privileged to witness.
It’s taken us close to three months to get comfortable with one another. I’m relentlessly pushing, demanding her best effort, she’s got learning disabilities and years of damaged self-esteem built up thick around a beautiful dancer’s soul longing for lightness and freedom. Some days it felt like we were going nowhere fast. She would awkwardly force her lines onto the paper, afraid to make her mark for fear of getting it “wrong”. When I talked about her emotional connection to her art making, and the need to reflect intensely on personal reasons, experiences and attitudes in order to create meaningful artwork, she would look at me as if I was from another planet.
I made her write, compose poems, improvise freely, scribble wildly, stand up, change hands, research, and a dozen other things designed to break the icy spell of our culture’s unfortunate judgement of superficialities, which turned her into a passive, timid conformist. I made her cry when I told her she wasn’t trying hard enough.
It took one charcoal drawing of a flamenco dancer for me to know that something had shifted. The facial proportions were all wrong, but her marks had a flow and energy to them which finally started to echo this girl’s inner treasures. Her sense of possibility is more than restored, it’s positively blooming.Who are we to judge one another, especially children, as harshly as we do? All it takes is the willingness to listen, to empathise and to affirm the other’s unique inner world.
All I’m doing is helping her to connect her spirit with her hand, and the paper under it. Simple, awe-inspiring magic. No talent required.
Against all odds- conferences, functions, exams, deadlines- I have produced something each day. Mostly small doodles and randoms, which I’m totally unused to showing anyone, but I said I’d post so there ya have it.
Compared to my output rate for the past 24 months, this is prolific indeed…what I usually do is to spew out a body of pretty much spontaneous work in a short intense frenzy, uncomfortably squeezed in between many months of complete flat lining.
I’m enjoying this discipline, unexpectedly, my brain is happily buzzing with ideas while my pen wanders on the paper.
Now why doesn’t the art community have a cool challenge like NaNoWriMo? The BBF (best boyfriend forever), alternating between elation and anxiety about his first ever NaNo, starting Tuesday, got me evaluating my work modus operandi: Time in The studio somehow always lands up last on the list, and I have plenty of very good justifications for this! Oh yessir, no-one could fault me for being handicapped by the Great Three- lack of time, energy, and finances. Watertight alibi. Yet something about the excited collective spirit and the supportive vibe among the writing community I’m witnessing second-hand has infected my busy, mostly art-free little world. What the heck, if you guys can, so can I! And yes, I know that writing about 1700 words on a daily basis is probably much more challenging than getting down some drawing or painting , but relativity is a wonderful thing. If I manage to match this schedule I will be achieving the impossible…so here’s the deal: For every daily quota of words I’ll equal at least one drawing or painting, editing optional 😉 .From the first of November to the thirtieth of November. Any artists out there care to join, bring it on! Any writers need visual inspiration, feel free to browse my hopefully prolific output!
“Lüderitz Jetty” Oil on board copyright Silke Berens
The city is alive with purple. Carpets of pulsating petals lie at the sides of almost every road, while the massive blooming crowns of the jacaranda turn a monochrome skyline into a poem. Each small breeze showers micro rains of violet drops. Creamy white butterflies whirl by, gusted in happy clusters. Spring in Africa is brief yet joyful, a short pocket of mildness and fragrant growth before the heat flattens and slows the beat of life.
I’m painting, thanks to spring. When the jasmine sent its luscious scent my way, I felt a shift in my long struggle with doubt and fear. A tireless, and sometimes merciless, watching preceded this shift. Watching myself from every angle, watching for the truth and the lies, and with the seeing had to eventually come insight. Followed by compassion and eventually action, though it felt at times as though I was stuck on some hellish repeat button, dooming myself to a socially accepted brand of insanity.
How many of us are living lives of quiet desperation. The ones whose desperation starts to make a noise we send away and/or medicate into submission.
What is the sound of sanity?
I wrote the following piece before I knew about Indigo Spider’s blog, but after reading some of her posts it feels like a fitting dedication:
this is for a voice in the wilderness, a smile among vacant faces.
colour of deep longing
of secret dreams woven in the dark
inked sister to the sky,
lift my burden
high up where air becomes space
and nothing weighs much any more
sounds turn to silence
float on a shimmering breath
here we expand infinitely
along a silver stranded spectrum