Simply For The Love Of It

The thinking iterated in this excerpt demonstrates the travesty of elevating “arts” as something that only “special, creative” people do.

Despite the maxim about old dogs and new tricks, I don’t think age alone creates such fears. Our society values professionalism and disdains amateurism. Why should I try Irish dancing when I can see “Riverdance”? Why should I attempt to play piano when I can pop Count Basie into the CD player? Why should I expose my clumsiness in sports when I can watch the Ice Capades on the telly? Such emphasis on professionalism makes us consumers rather than dancers, musicians, skaters — or painters. We stop doing things just for love and start spending money instead.

My clearest memory of being discouraged from artistic amateurism came when I entered high school. Like most children, I had always loved art: building pudgy clay pots, painting flowers for mommy, coloring everything colorable. But high school changed all that. My first day, the art teacher — a woman, I regret to say — informed us that the world is divided into artists and non-artists. Artists, as she told it, were different than ordinary folk. They saw things more clearly, felt things more deeply, suffered torments as the crass world grated against their sensitive souls. Such people, she said, were rare and precious. They were geniuses. She had never seen more than one per class. One genius, all the rest clods. Our work would reveal the truth. She would be the judge.

Then she gave us our first assignment.

You can imagine the anxiety as we drew silently, each hoping not to be revealed as an insensitive clod. Appallingly, I can still remember my piece, a little landscape. It seemed very sensitive indeed to me, seemed to reveal my inner torment and depth of soul. I shook as I handed it in.

I shook even harder when the teacher picked up my little drawing. My heart stopped in anticipation. I felt like I was choking. Was it true? Could it be I was an artist? A genius?

But no. The teacher picked my drawing to show how plodding some work could be, how derivative, how lacking in insight. Another student — I do not remember who, I was in a blur of pain — was pronounced the class genius.

I vowed, at that moment, never to paint again.

–Patricia Monaghan, Just For the Love of It, Matrifocus

I had a similar experience in my night grade English class. I wrote a short story that earned a lower grade that I’d expected, and I was crushed. I never wrote fiction again until my late twenties, when due to the paucity of available classes I had to sign up for a fiction writing class for my degree. I managed to do well in that class, but I found writing a torture. I believe that my resistance to writing fiction is rooted in that original experience. Fortunately for Monaghan, she decided to plunge through her fear and made a happy discovery, which you can enjoy by clicking on the Matrifocus link above.

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