Friday, March 23, 2012

How Stephen Hawking & "Draw Something" Made Me into an Artist...Sort of

In our house, more often than not, you can find us watching a science special on television.

A few weeks ago we were watching a special on Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking or some other supergenius and I mentioned to Rob how amazing it is that there are actually people out there who are clearly and organically so much smarter than the rest of us.  While I struggle with how to readjust a recipe to feed 2 people instead of 8 without a calculator, these men are figuring out the goddamn universe you guys. I mean for real, I can barely be trusted to brush my teeth twice a day.

I have always assumed that people who do things like science, math, walking in heels, and art are just naturally better than me--better than me in these areas and I suspect just better people in general.   They must have some magical element that's simply missing in my brain, as though I could study physics all day every single day for my entire life and I'd still be about as proficient with I am now, which is to say, not proficient at all.  When I think about this in the context of people like Hawking or Einstein I just feel useless.  Like what the hell do I do while these people are contemplating the uncontemplatable?  Sit around whining about how useless I am?

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SCIENCE!

So we were watching Albert Hawkingstein when Rob made a point to me that has stuck with me ever since: "It isn't that they're inherently smarter with you, it's just that physics isn't interesting to you.  If you were interested in it you'd want to study it every day, and you'd be as devoted as they are."  

Full disclosure, I'm actually paraphrasing. He might've said something more along the lines of, "Can you stop requesting validation that you're not a totally useless lump while I'm trying to watch this show?"  I thought about his point at length, though, and still found myself feeling useless.  What exactly am I passionate about? What do I do well?  Aside from whining and sleeping (which I am objectively great at) I couldn't come up with much.

In the subsequent period of introspection I thought back to those ventures I have tried and noticed a common thread. Whenever I've tried to learn how to do something--from art to math to exercise--I have found that if do not instantly excel at the task I give up in a flustered huff.  The effect is heightened when there's some implied element of competition or judgement, such as in school or at the gym.

Recently I started playing the game "Draw Something" on my iPhone and then my iPad.  At first the game was just as frustrating to me as my efforts to draw have been at the past.  Excluding a whole lot of scribbling and doodling as a kid, drawing has always been a total mystery to me.  If you tell me to draw something it's almost as if a physical wall appears in my brain; I simply cannot translate what I see in real life or in my head to paper.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App 
ART!

But the non-competitive nature of the game (side note: what the hell is the point of this game, by the way?) allowed me to feel comfortable in drawing pictures that could easily be bested by a blindfolded three-year-old in what I would imagine to be the most bizarre drawing competition in the world.  Once I switched from my iPhone to my iPad, the drawing got easier because I wasn't so heavy-handed on my tiny phone. Gradually, the process of drawing and the translating got easier and easier to the point that I actually started to enjoy creating a comprehensive picture.

Now don't get me wrong, I still can't draw for shit, as any of my current Draw Something competitors and that fucking awesome centaur could tell you.  All of the people I draw are stick figures, and mediocre ones at that. But this experience helped me realize that the only thing that has been keeping me back from learning what I'm best at is me. I've been so afraid of failure that it's possible I've totally missed out on a new passion or some skill that is completely within my grasp to learn and do well.

In light of this revelation, I decided that maybe I should pursue drawing as a hobby.  I've been trying to think of an anxiety-reducing activity that I could do to unwind when I'm feeling uptight; I have other anxious friends who find comfort in knitting or crocheting, and I'm hoping that drawing is this hobby for me. Since I have no one monitoring this hobby--anything I sketch will not be featured here, and you're welcome in advance--I figure I don't have to worry about feeling judged, which should help keep me on task and prevent me from quitting out of embarrassment.

I want to reiterate that I have no great hopes (I mean, just look at that centaur) or great aspirations.  I know I'll never be a great artist because I suspect that I have no natural talent (again, centaur), but I figure that it couldn't hurt to try something new and to challenge my fear of failure in a most uncomfortable way.

You're next, physics.

22 comments:

  1. Girl-- I just HAD this conversation last night, and was in the works of writing about my own issues with "being afraid to fail" so I am glad I came across this before I hit publish!

    I agree 100% with what Rob said re: interest. Asan artist-- I hear people say "Oh I can't draw/paint" or "I am not creative" a lot, to which I always reply

    "Creativity finds you working"

    I share your frustration-- when I am not good at something right away, I get irritated and blow it off.

    Right now I am trying to shift gears into the "digital" art world-- which has been frustrating for me mainly because I don't know much about how to navigate a computer other than the basics.. and I feel a loyalty to the fine arts-- well that' been my excuse anyway.

    Anyway-- I had a nice chat with some lovely ladies last night about being so afraid to fail that I feel like I am paralyzed sometimes-- and breaking through that has been really empowering and exciting.

    Great post lady!

    have a good weekend!

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    1. I'd love to read your post on it :) Paralyzed is a great word for it, that's exactly how I feel. Good luck with digital art and have a great weekend :)

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  2. you can paint me like one of those french girls. wearing this ::points to my nose ring:: and only this.

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    1. hahaha I actually laughed at this comment!

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  3. I agree, and am similar--if I'm not interested in it, I don't make that much of an effort to understand it or be good at it. I think we all probably have the brain capacity to be geniuses (in which case, it would be "normal" to be that smart) but for the most part, we are not interested or have somehow built mental blocks while growing up. I actually think a lot of it probably has to do with our society and how we are raised/taught in school. I mean, we as a society tend to be more interested in celebrities and pop culture than figuring out the universe. I have friends who know every crazy detail or rumor about celebrities, but can't write a paper or do basic math (I'm with them on the math).
    I wonder if people grew up in a society where the focus was more on math/science/universe/etc. and those things were deemed important by society if that society would produce a lot of Hawkingsteins? Or if it was art society would be get a lot of Rembgoghs?

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    1. Interesting thoughts! I also wonder to what extent super intelligence comes at a cost. As I mentioned below, Einstein was objectively kind of a douche (cheated on his wife and expected her to condone it) and Hawking left his wife for his nurse. I know in college the smartest professors could rarely impart any real knowledge because of a simple lack of communication skills. So interesting, the human brain.

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    2. My older brother is really smart--maybe not Hawkingstein, but he understands and can expand upon their concepts which is ridiculously smart to me--and he's really not very good socially. haha

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  4. ahhh, i love drawing. it is definitely an anxiety-reducing activity for me. doooo itttt

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    1. I'm sure you're better at it than I! But we'll see what I can crank out...

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  5. I feel this is appropriate, NSFW:

    http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/03/21

    I feel the same way about Draw Something! I was super proud of a not-nerdy cousin guessing 'Avengers' halfway through me drawing Thor, after I had drawn Ironman and Spiderman. Because the picture was awful.

    Although I have found that people, me included, get stumped on the easiest ones.

    I like to color in coloring books to reduce my anxiety...or boredom. It truly is very therapeutic!

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    1. Hahaha that comic was hilarious! I do that sometimes, draw this really detailed picture for something tiny that I draw last. Like I got "Munchkin" and drew this super detailed Dorothy, then a tiny stick figure singing "We represent the Lollipop Guild." hahaha.

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  6. I think one of the important things to remember is that we only tend to remember people for their best traits. Einstein was apparently really awkward socially and even though he had some great ideas, his first wive had to help him a lot in putting it all together. If she hadn't been there and their talens hadn't worked together so well, who knew if his theories had ever come together at all?

    Also, I find that there is an important difference between wanting to be good at something and wanting to do something. I often fall into this trap and do something because I admire people who are good at it. That very rarely leads anywhere unfortunately and tends to leave me very frustrated and with a feeling of not being able to do anything.

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    1. Very good point! We'll see how it goes once I actually sit down and draw :)

      Rob and I talked about that too--Einstein and Hawking are geniuses, but they aren't really objectively awesome people. Einstein wrote a letter to his wife (who I think was also his cousin in some way) telling her that he expected her to have sex with him whenever he wanted, he should be allowed to cheat, etc. Stephen Hawking left his wife, who had helped care for him, for his nurse. Very interesting!

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  7. Tooootally!! Chad loves for me to paint in the garage with him and I want so badly to be good at it, but I paint inside on canvas and wood and whatever all the time and my paintbrush/paint marker technique has been developed over years and years of schooling and practice so I'm comfortable with it (even though my painting style is ever changing!)...but my can control is not awesome and when I can't make the shit look how I want it too I practically give up...so not cool. The pressure comes from within and realistically has nothing to do with anyone else...so I'm all for "pressure-less" activities! Actually, even though I love art and drawing, I keep a secret stash of coloring books and crayons for de-stressing. There is something about it that is totally therapeutic and I love it!
    Happy drawring!

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    1. I LOVE coloring books! I colored a ton of pictures for Robbie from an Animals coloring book last summer. And goddamn, did I love having that brand-new box of crayons. Thanks friend :)

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  8. Ha ha - I love your centaur!!!

    I get this, though. With me, I can plug away at something until I've got the basics and then it's as though something in brain goes, "Right, you've proved you COULD become good at this, so why bother with the tricky bits?" I'm getting better, though - I'm putting proper effort into my sewing. Sporadic proper effort, but effort all the same.

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    1. Exactly. I read an article once that said that our generation (those of us who are 20-30 or so nowadays) grew up with a lot of "montage" movies...basically movies in which one character sucks at something (let's say karate in "Karate Kid"), then there's a quick training montage, and all of a sudden they're amazing. Growing up with those role models we grew up thinking that you shouldn't really have to work hard to be good at something. Not super scientific, but still, an interesting idea.

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  9. 1. you want to know what you're good at and proves you aren't useless? first, you always make me laugh and tinkle a little. well, the tinkle part is a lie, but the laughing part is true. second, you always use words that i know but can never seem to fit into a sentence because i'm a dummy.

    2. drawing is good. sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's not, but it's always a relazing and therapeutic activity.

    3. physics is fun, you just have to find the right book.

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    1. "Tinkle" made me laugh, and your comment is so freaking sweet. Thank you, stalkmate.

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  10. Hahah!! I'm all about the super smart science shows! I too feel like they're way smarter than me. I'm sure Albert is just modest. He's a freakin' genius and he knew it.

    My brother wanted me to play draw something and I played one round and was like... dude I don't get it. What's the strategy?

    There is no strategy I guess. Lame! It's like Candy Land. Most worthless game ever!

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  11. One, that centaur is amazeballs (not joking) and is drawn better than anything I've submitted to this game. Two, I really enjoyed reading your insights on learning new things without fear of being the best, especially right away. I have issue with this very same thing.
    Keep drawing!

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