On not being able to paint by Marion Milner

I’ve just begun to read ‘On not being able to paint’ by Marion Milner and I really liked the following quote from the page 6 of the first chapter. Marion Milner writes about her struggles in trying to learn how to paint, and relates these struggles to psychoanalytic processes. I think many of us who have an artistic practice will recognise experiences that resonate with this account:

On reaching home I had begun a sketch in charcoal, feeling that the mood to be expressed was a real aesthetic pleasure in beauty of the form, to be embodied in a serious drawing of artistic worth. Instead, figure 2 [a simple drawing of a relatively dour looking lady] appeared.

The book goes on to detail her ongoing artistic development and her use of free drawings to explore internal states of being. Of particular interest to those of you with an interest in art and psychology may be her attempt to paint as an expression of emotion, rather than trying to re-create the image in front of her.

This quote above reminded me of the importance of the ‘practice’ in artistic practice. In ‘practices’ such as yoga or meditation it is readily accepted that when you start, you will find things difficult, but through practice you begin to find things a bit easier, a bit more enjoyable and a bit more useful. I sometime feel that there is something about the idea of being an ‘artist’ which is off putting for people, it doesn’t encourage the idea of practice unless their is a pr-existing ‘talent’. There is sometimes a feeling that you can only really be artistic if every piece of work you create is good, as if only certain people can be artists. I’ve met many people who don’t engage in creative practices because they feel that they are ‘no good’ at making things or drawing things and so they effectively gave up, which I think is really sad.

I think some of the best creative experiences may not result in a beautiful product, or even a finished product. I’d like to believe that the act of being creative in itself is a really positive thing, and that over time and repeated efforts everyone can get better at what ever their chosen creative ‘thing’ is. These are the experiences that can be the most playful and the most experimental, and can lead to the most new learning. Each time you try something new, or delve back into the techniques that you know you enjoy, you build on the things and skills you learned last time. This is what practice is all about.


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