Hello! This is Alice! Her adventures in line drawing continue.
Drawing gets touted as a difficult skill, one that few master. And no doubt, it takes a lot of effort to actually git gud. But what about basic skill?
Alice thinks these drawings are pretty basic. They’ve required little effort. She certainly hasn’t put in her ten thousand hours, or felt particularly sweaty after a hot, blood-pumping drawing session. But still, she thinks her drawings are good enough to illustrate her stories.
What is “basic” drawing skill, anyway?
Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (2012) is a wonderful book that has brought Alice courage to wield the mighty ink. And Edwards points out that drawing, far from being a mystical and gargantuan skill, is natural to apes. Acquiring a basic drawing skill is not about learning, it’s about rehabilitating.
The obstacles in acquiring the skill to draw may be surprising to some. It’s not about talent, or time, or tools. It’s about mindset. Our society brainwashes us to see in a particular way, a way antithetical to drawing. Once we make the cognitive shift, change brain gears, learning to draw is about as difficult as learning to read.
This led Alice to thinking: What else is about rehabilitating? What else is by-and-large natural to apes, but has a reputation as a hard-to-learn skill? Things that make people say, “Oh, I couldn’t do X to save my life!”
Singing and other means of making music certainly seem to be one. Many people slam shut like clams if you ask them to do a bit of spontaneous singing. (And it’s not that hard. Alice took a few lessons a year ago, and she thinks acquiring a basic singing ability is pretty easy. It’s mostly about overcoming your own shaking nerves.)
Writing is, of course, another. Ask a person to tell a story off the top of their head, and odds are that they freeze.
Now, writing an earth-shattering play or a dazzling volume of poetry takes some real skill, Alice doesn’t deny that. But what about basic writing skill? You know, the ability to articulate clearly, and tell a functional story? We apes are natural in that.
For the very basic skill of storytelling, to paraphrase the brilliant Keith Johnstone, two things are required: keep introducing new things (to create forward drive) and re-visit old things (to create structure).
No talent, time, or tools needed. Again, the major obstacle is actually believing you can do this. Our society is great at wielding the shame hammer. Ever since we were kids, we get pounded on the head for daring to exercise our primal gifts. We glorify artists, but it isn’t until you’re excellent that you’re allowed on the stage. If you’re just doodling, humming, or skipping along, being happy about it, and wanting to show your happiness to another, then bam! It’s the shame hammer for you!
Shit on society for doing this. Dear reader, take what is yours by birthright. You are a drawer, a singer, a dancer, and a storyteller. No matter who you are.
Caveat: Though Alice sings the joyful hymn of rehabilitation, she ought to remember that for some people, even rehab is hard. Some people bear tons of unhelpful habits and ingrained inflexibility. It may take real work, of several years, to unlearn all that.
Still, the aforementioned skills are natural even for them. It’s just that sometimes, even reclaiming your birthright can be all but impossible.