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.