I Painted a Tomato and Broadened My Worldview
Now, five years out of high school and without access to film development equipment, I’ve disconnected more than I’d like to admit from my visual arts roots. I’ve thought about starting up some form of art practice for years now, but the truth is: I absolutely hate doing things I’m bad at. Bowling, running, and that time I cried in fifth grade because I couldn’t figure out a math problem all come to mind.
Then a couple of weeks back, I came across this incredible article called “It’s Okay to Suck” wherein writer Tim Falconer gives us a pretty revolutionary nugget of wisdom: doing things we’re bad at actually makes us better people. As Falconer explains, "When you do what you’re good at exclusively, avoiding what you are bad at, you live in an evaluative world, one that’s full of judgement. You’re always concerned about the quality of your performance so you’re always self-conscious. The danger is this becomes an inauthentic world, one that you don’t engage in for its own sake and one that’s not a lot of fun.”
Reading this shook me up in a way I couldn't have imagined – just ask anyone I've had a conversation with in the past two weeks. When we spend our lives chasing after the things we're good at, we inevitably meet success. And the truth is, despite what our egoic inner dialogue likes to tell us, when we look back on our lives they are riddled with much more success than failure. From the big stuff like graduations and career moves to the "littler" stuff like learning to do our own manicure or parallel park (ahem hi 23-yr-old Raquel) , we've all jumped many a hurdle and, understandably, we've grown used to doing well. The trouble with this kind of success, though, is just that: it's familiar and expected so we don't want to disrupt it. The longer we go doing things we're great at, the less tolerance we have for fucking up and, over time, we stop taking risks.
From a self-care perspective, I'd guess that there's one other enormous benefit that Falconer doesn't directly touch on: overcoming a fear of making a mistake is legit the ultimate confidence booster. Of course, sometimes you won’t overcome your challenges – at least not as well as you planned – but you will overcome the challenge within the challenge. That is to say, you’ll get past that daunting mental hurdle that told you you wouldn’t even try. And that, my friends, is a powerful feeling – a drug to the system that leaves you craving more and more healthy risk-taking.
Alas, in thinking about what I could do to test this new theory o' mine, I knew immediately what my challenge would be. I would enlist my best friend and artist Tara to give me a drawing lesson. It would be painful and awful and I would hate it, but I would growww. And that’s what we’re after here, people!!!
So, a couple of weeks ago on our mini getaway from the city, we crafted an en plain air studio (like the art history major douches we are) and then I drew a plum and painted a tomato. And it – nor I – didn’t totally suck!!!
Things definitely got off to a rocky start with our sketching lesson. I actually felt myself growing anxious and defeatist as I shaded too much here, smudged the paper there, and cross-hatched a little less than expertly. When I tried to give up on the first fruit, Tara put me right in my place: “You’re not saving the world. It’s a plum.” When we moved onto watercolor, I started to get the hang of things and found myself finally entering a state of flow. You know you’re in flow, Falconer explains, "when you’re fully immersed, emotionally focused and creatively involved, in an activity that is intrinsically rewarding rather than being motivated by money or praise.” Certain that no one would ever be paying me for my tomato talent, I felt present and calm and totally transfixed by this little world I’d created on paper.
By the end of a couple of hours, I’d produced some decent work, but more importantly I felt freed from certain assumptions I’d made about myself. The assumption that I’m an exceedingly average draughtsman was true, sure. But the thought that I couldn’t muster the strength to at least try something out of my wheelhouse turned out to be pretty incorrect and for that I’m grateful. I've since picked up my own watercolor set and find myself craving a little paint sesh almost every day. Turns out, it does feel pretty good to be bad.
- Lenea Sims