Artistic Hopscotch

Posted July 06 2016

We shared a Degas quote over on the Creative Catalyst Facebook page last week. It went something like this:


“Painting is very easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”  -Edgard Degas.


I read it the first time in a very particular way: People who have never picked up a paint brush have very strong feelings about how easy painting is. I see this all the time first hand with abstract modern paintings.  A non-painter sees a modern abstract painting and says, “Oh my kid could do that.” And yet, many people who are painters know that really good abstract painting is really hard.


On second read I took away a different meaning. It’s something I’ve been experiencing lately. Each time I take a step or two forward in my art abilities, I’ll feel a moment of elation (woohoo!) followed by an immediate slide back five steps. Sure, there is no actual sliding. It’s all in my perceptions of my work. The more I learn to paint and draw, the less, I realize, I know how to paint and draw.


Art is a combination of many things including an ability to see and an ability to do. Sometimes my body will figure something out before my mind. I like those times best. They are infused with magic. Perhaps these are happy accidents. I’ll try something unexpected and it’ll just work. Tahdah!


But other times the reverse happens. My ability to see makes a leap forward before my drawing or painting ability leaps forward. The result is not magical. The result is pure frustration. What felt like such a breakthrough yesterday now feels awkward and unfeeling.


Half of learning to paint is learning how you learn to paint. Each of us is different. The next time I feel dissatisfied with my work though, I’ll try and remember Degas’ words. I’ll try and asses if I’m simply experiencing a seeing leap a bit ahead of an ability leap. And I’ll use that as inspiration to put my nose back down and keep doing the work.

Do you ever have a leap of seeing before an ability leap? Do you find it frustrating or exciting? Tell us below!

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Kelly Anne Powers is working on her own artistic hopscotch at her blog.