Can and can’t

I wish I’d managed to push back in the moment, but somehow I just couldn’t pull together something quickly enough that would have sunk into little self-doubting ears. It broke my heart though. She seems a little young for the “creativity slump,”* but there are late bloomers and early birds in all things.

Does an uncontested statement like this begin it?

Then again, I know so, so many grown-up artists who struggle with this very thing. People who are fabulously successful and established in the illustration world will walk away from a table full of not-quite-there-yet ideas and say over a midday coffee, “I can’t draw.” They’ll think it to themselves as they try to find something to send to the editor at the end of the day. They’ll think it when they see someone else’s masterful solutions. They’ll think it if they get a weird email from an art director.

But “can’t” is a dangerous word. For one thing, it’s inaccurate — the fact that you are drawing anything at all disproves it. “Can” and “can’t” refer to rudimentary ability.

What this little girl — and many grown-ups — mean when they say “can’t” is actually something very different. They mean, “I am not making GOOD drawings when I draw,” which is something equally dangerous, if not completely irrelevant.

It’s weird — just an hour before this happened I had taken a picture of something this girl had drawn and sent it to Anthony because I loved it so much. I wish I had remembered this in the moment, so I could talk to her about it. So I could say, yes I have seen your drawings! I think they are expressive and alive and really tell good stories!

I am thinking of writing a quick note to this gal to explain about can / can’t, and maybe mention Ben Shahn or some of Picasso’s drawings, and Who Gets To Decide What Is Good, and To Be Drawing Means You Are Doing Good Drawing.

This will all probably end up expanded into a feature, like the Fennel Story, but for now I wanted to make a point. It all starts with drawing.

*(Here’s a great resource to combat this slump, which I wish I had read before I heard her “can’t” — I will hereafter and commit it to memory.)