Never Believe Your 7th Grade Art Teacher [unless the message is “You are spectacular!”]

Not long before Christmas, while searching a crafts store for a picture frame, I found myself wandering the paint supply aisle. I lingered over blocks of paper, fondled brushes and looked at colors. Suddenly I began picking up watercolor supplies with the idea that I would buy them for my adult son. I thought, “Nick will love these! He can paint when he wants a break from playing his banjo.” Then it dawned on me, I didn’t want the paints for Nick, I wanted them for me! With this realization, my face turned red, my heartbeat pounded in my ears and I carefully put everything back and left the store feeling the shame of the wounded teenager still inside me.  The voice inside my head mocked me: “YOU can’t paint! You’re not an artist. You’re not creative at all!”

Weeks later I shared this experience with my coach. When we explored this together I remembered the shame-filled incident in art class when my teacher told me that there was no point in continuing art classes, my paintings lacked any artistic value. I believed it and I quit. I can’t even remember my art teacher’s name, nor if said teacher was male or female, young or old. Yet the memory of the room, the view out the window and the feeling of deep shame is vivid, as though it happened yesterday.

I made this experience mean that I wasn’t good at anything creative. Though as a young adult I took classes in silversmith and pottery, I always felt less than, criticized my own work harshly, rarely allowing myself to just enjoy the process. The only creative projects I pursued were gardening [the flowers created their own beauty] and photography [it was a palette I couldn’t mess up]. The only times I used paint was on the walls of my house and finger painting with my son.

In this session with my coach, I realized that I wanted to challenge this shame, show up, and step into the artistic arena and paint, just for me, just for fun. It didn’t matter if it was “good”, it only mattered that I enjoy the experience. Off I went back to the crafts store with list in hand.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy. More than once I trotted back to put things away. The voice now said: “You’re going to spend MONEY on ART supplies? YOU? You’re kidding.” But I made a commitment and gosh-darn-it,  I did it! I was going to paint!

To say that it’s been a pleasure sitting down on snowy Saturday afternoons with a cup of tea, brush, paints, paper and muse, is an understatement. I am filled with joy each time I set brush to paper. I feel like I’ve reclaimed my sad, teenaged self and made her happy!

I’ve made a commitment to myself: As long as I have another breath to take, I’ll continue to explore the nooks and crannies to find where I’ve hidden the true me, the joyful me, the playful me, the artistic me, the authentic me. I’ll embrace life and all the joy and pleasure I have denied myself thinking I’m just not good enough. I will no longer believe the false messages of my inner critic. I’ll listen to the voice of my champion that tells me: “Cate, you are enough!”

Below: Photograph I took and painting I created!

cardinal piccardinal painting

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5 Responses to Never Believe Your 7th Grade Art Teacher [unless the message is “You are spectacular!”]

  1. Deb Moran says:

    You sure are creative, Lovely painting, I love paintings with Birds.

  2. Toni Vitale says:

    Cate that is beautiful! If I saw that in a store I would buy it! Good for you.

  3. Lovely painting. Your story reminds me of a man I met years ago at the Humor Conference (a blast) and he told us that when he was a boy in the choir, he was asked to move to the back and interpreted thought that meant he was a terrible singer. So he stopped singing until he had a baby (well his wife had the baby) and feeling that the baby wouldn’t know the difference he sang to him. His wife walked in and told him he had a beautiful voice and made him promise to keep singing. Never let anyone steal your voice:)

  4. Thank you for your comments. It truly is amazing what we “buy” into. Several high school friends responded on Facebook and reminded me of who the teacher was. I admired him so much! Hence my total devastation. However one friend went on to say that his music teacher told him he would NEVER be a jazz musician. He walked out feeling humiliated but undaunted by the teacher’s opinion and became exactly that and has made it his profession since high school! Now that is a resilient spirit, something I did not have but am growing day by day!

  5. What a shame that someone you admired let you down. I applaud you for going with your gut, Cate. As a child, I had the opposite experience. A nursery school teacher told my parents that I was artistically gifted, which lead to many years of painting lessons. I have not put brush to canvas in more than 30 years but recently have felt a very strong pull in that direction. Maybe, as we age, our creative juices rise to the surface and give a good wave Hello to remind us that they are still there. 😊

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