Goodly drawn girl
May 25, 2008 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever known someone with so much artistic potential, who does nothing with it?

My girlfriend is a very talented illustrator. She will sit and idle doodle amazing little scenes, creatures, and people while talking or sitting with me. I am constantly amazed at how casually she comes up with these drawings, as they rival some of the best stylized illustrations I've seen out there.

However, she has no faith in her own work while also seeming to take her talent for granted. I've tried and tried to convince her otherwise, but to no avail.

I've tried giving her projects- like draw a couple quirky characters for my band's site or CD, but she always puts it off and if I push her at all, she feels like she's under too much pressure. I've also tried using her own ideas as inspiration- she's interested in tshirt design and silkscreening, but when I offer to screen whatever she wants onto a shirt, she shies away.

How can I help her realize her potential without being overbearing?

She has a vague idea for a children's book (though currently sans illustration), and loves Yositomo Nara's work, so I'm going to buy her this as a gift. But I'd love to hear what else I might be able to do.

Any ideas?
posted by self to Human Relations (51 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I have.

My best friend from high school, whose art-teacher mother put some serious pressure on her.

Maybe if you lay off the convincing, she'll come to it on her own? My friend and I had some good times drawing together, just casually; I'm not much of an artist, but I think both of us enjoyed the time.

I think all you can do is give her space to create, and if she wants, she will. And importantly, if she doesn't, she won't, and you'll have to live with that.
posted by nat at 10:11 PM on May 25, 2008

Maybe send her to a short night class in illustrating or drawing or sketching? Not so much to teach her technique or anything of the sort, but to expose her to like-minded individuals and, hopefully, secure her a little more faith (I'm almost tempted to say "affirmation") in what you already know is her talent.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:11 PM on May 25, 2008

I have seen that happen all the time back when I was in art school. tons of extremely talented kids only doing mediocre work or even dropping out because they just couldn't be bothered to do anything. five years out the lesser talented students with a better work ethic have advanced and prospered while the lazy superstars are never heard from again. this seemed to be the case most often in our illustration and fine arts programs but I've seen some lazy graphic designers as well. I specifically remember one kid who did such amazing work for our first critique that is nearly broke my heart. I looked at his abilities and thought I'd never be able to compete with that. he never went beyond that level, mainly because he did anything but work on his design skills, whereas everyone else progressed. I think he dropped out after fourth term.

I'm not sure what makes people one way or another or how to change them. some suddenly sprung to life and worked their butts off, others never felt the urge. not getting scholarships did it for some but not all.

so no, it's not unique to see her waste her talents. it's almost the norm.
posted by krautland at 10:18 PM on May 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure why you want to change her.

If she has a burning desire to use her artistic talents, she will find a way.

We've all got talents we don't use or develop, despite what others think we should do. I was very good at writing growing up, but hit a point where I was about to throw anyone through the window who suggested a writing career, because I did not want to be a writer. Just because you are good at something does not mean you should have to do it, particularly if you get no joy from it.

Today I really love writing, but it took 20 years and my own internal motivation to come back to it, for my own reasons.

If she has a strong desire to make art, and is hampered by self-critique or just insecurity, you can offer to help her work on those obstacles when she chooses. But if she just doesn't feel like making art, despite her talent, I'm not sure why you think she should. It's up to her to decide what to do with her time. You have a band; why not put your energy into your own creative pursuits and let her decide what to do with her creative energy?
posted by Miko at 10:23 PM on May 25, 2008 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Stop trying to convince her, or give her projects, or make her do what you think she should be doing. She obviously does not find it flattering or inspiring.

You're not her teacher or her parent or her mentor; you are her boyfriend. Instead of telling her what she should be feeling or doing, try to find out why she's feeling what she's feeling, without judgment or contradiction of those feelings, and -- crucially -- without offering a solution. She may have a significant fear of failure. She may be scared to disappoint you if she doesn't do well. She may be a perfectionist, easily frustrated by the fact that things may not come on on first try how she envisions them. She may feel she doesn't have the drive or focus necessary to stick through projects to their end.

You need to listen to her, instead of trying to make her listen to you. And you need to make it clear to her that you accept her as she is, whether she does art or not. (Assuming that you really do accept her as she is, and that your relationship is not contingent on turning her into the artist you think she ought to be. It's not, is it?)
posted by scody at 10:29 PM on May 25, 2008 [10 favorites]

The War of Art
posted by sharkfu at 10:30 PM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: nat- Not wanting to do something could have various reasons. I've known this girl long enough to see that it's her own deprecation and self-consciousness that stops her from exploring her potential. It's very different than having no interest in it.

on a related note, Miko- thank you for the input. You've made me realize I didn't include a very important detail in the OP, that she has expressed interest in pursuing illustration as a career, or at the least a hobby.
posted by self at 10:30 PM on May 25, 2008

Response by poster: scody- in your response to your question- hell no! I love this girl with all I've got, and to me a large part of love is wanting to help a person grow. I have no self interest (despite the username) in this at all. I love her for everything she is right now, she's just expressed frustration at not feeling creative enough &c., so I want to help her with that.
posted by self at 10:33 PM on May 25, 2008

There's pretty much nothing you can do, except positively encourage the behavior you like to see, when she does it (like with dogs). Any attempt to push her will meet resistance and just strain your relationship. People need to find motivation within themselves to pursue goals.
posted by knave at 10:38 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

self: Then I think it's about talking with her -- and letting her take the lead -- in finding out what's holding her back. Again, could be perfectionism, fear of failure/rejection, etc. that are her stumbling block(s). Those things aren't going to be overcome by you essentially giving her assignments (no matter how well-meaning) to design a T-shirt or CD cover.

Here's a thought: do you (or she) know any working visual artists? Maybe it's a matter of talking to someone about the nuts and bolts of illustrating, for example, to help demystify some of the creative and practical aspects of art making.

Also, here's a book my dad, a professional artist, gave me a few years ago (and which I desperately wish I'd read about 10 years earlier, when my own fear of rejection basically prevented me from pursuing my writing the way I wanted to). She might enjoy it.
posted by scody at 10:45 PM on May 25, 2008

Sometimes I think people get seduced by the traditional idea of great artistry through great inspiration: they have to want to create something so badly that the desire almost takes on a life of its own, as though the artist becomes something of a conduit for otherworldly powers. When they don't feel that burning desire to create anything, it suddenly doesn't matter how much talent they have—it just feels like going through the motions unless they feel utterly possessed by inspiration.

It's not, of course; great artistry comes just as much, if not more so, from practice and repeated failure as from that mythical lightning strike of inspiration. But try telling anyone waiting for their muse about inspiration vs. perspiration and see how well that works. Not saying that this is absolutely the case for your girlfriend, but I wouldn't be surprised. And to be honest, I don't know that there's anything you can do for her if this turns out to be the case; it's a sort of mental roadblock she needs to get around. Just try to support her whenever she does take steps toward doing more serious illustration work, and in the meantime try not to put her on a pedestal and pull so hard for her to become the next great illustrator.
posted by chrominance at 10:55 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you make something you are good at, and enjoy doing, into work, you will end up killing the joy of it. That's a risk anyway. I always make sure at least one of the things I am good at, and enjoy, never gets involved with making money. There is nothing wrong with it staying a hobby. :)
posted by lundman at 11:03 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've talked with her about possible barriers too, and she mentions her apartment as a serious one. She feels she has no sanctuary in which to create- she hates working in a place where anyone could come look over her shoulder (her drawing desk and her bedroom are the apartment's living room).
posted by self at 11:06 PM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: Feed. Her. Muse.

  • Take her to art museums, galleries, exhibitions.
  • Sign up for that glass-fusing class together. (Yes, you can do it, too!)
  • Surprise her with a new, blank drawing tablet and some Sakura pens.
  • Go to the beach and squish sand in between your toes.
  • Make a paper mache pinata together ... come up with a name and display him proudly.
  • Spend an afternoon making marble magnets for all of your friends.
  • Cook together. Food is art, too.
  • Help her set up an etsy account. Convince her to join an etsy street team.
  • Fold some paper cranes together.
  • Get her an itunes giftcard.
  • Dig up an old illustration; have a neat canvas or giclee print made from it.
  • Go on a photo-taking expedition with your digital cameras.
  • Build a sand-castle.

    You can't tell her to do anything. All you can do is to help cultivate the right mood. I find that if I am around creative energy; it makes me want to create things on my own.

  • posted by Ostara at 11:10 PM on May 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

    I second the idea of talking her into taking a class (in illustration, sketching, whatever sounds fun to her.) If she's taking a class, she never needs to show her work to anyone except fellow-students and her teacher, so it may not make her as self-conscious. A little formal education in art may make her feel like she has more credibility, and her teachers' evaluation of her work will gradually help convince her that she really does have skills. Even if it never leads to anything further, an art class will be fun and worthwhile.
    posted by fermion at 11:12 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    re: lundman
    "Advertising's just chimneypieces".

    posted by theiconoclast31 at 11:21 PM on May 25, 2008

    Best answer: I have known so many people like this. Almost everyone you'll meet has great ideas, but nobody bothers to actually do anything to realize them. There's a saying: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Most people never even try.

    For example, I have two friends, from different periods in my life, in different cities, who are both really talented illustrators. Both of them will go so far as to plan out a whole comic, sketch the characters, start detailing the pages, and then just stop, because the rest of it - inking, lettering, coloring, whatever - is just too much effort.

    Because I grew up around people who could never finish a project, it's taken me my whole life to overcome that inertia and start actually producing stuff, and it's done through sheer force of will.

    Anyway, something I've found that really helps people overcome inhibition is Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal. Each page has an instruction like "Paint here with coffee" or "Tear this page into strips" and it's really freeing to play with it with no rules or restrictions. The artist also has a really great blog (For example, check out her 100 ideas). She is all about overcoming creative hangups.
    posted by lhall at 11:30 PM on May 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

    How about financial incentives? A freelance illustrator can demand a pretty good rate.
    posted by damn dirty ape at 12:02 AM on May 26, 2008

    One thing you need to bear in mind: by getting her to apply her skills to projects you could end up taking away what is currently a relaxing hobby. Those casual doodles could become a pressured chore.

    It's great to encourage people, but sometimes you have to recognise that the burning ambition just isn't there, and they don't want to nurture it. I know a few people like that, and while to me it's frustrating to see talent go unappreciated, I have to respect the fact that they're content and can live their lives without pushing for a different career or greater recognition.
    posted by malevolent at 12:22 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I don't know if you have been helped yet with your girlfriend or are still in need of some advice.

    But one thing is for certain, and that is this, she has had someone in her life who has either invalidated her ability or talent or evaluated her for it and that could have been a lot of times of short periods, but enough for her to not be willing to express her talent.

    An excellent booklet on this is PTS/SP people.

    Fundamentally, until she is able to shift some of the mental gears that block her communicating her talents then you might as well try moving Mt. Everest.

    You might get some motion by seeing if she still has someone in her vicinty who is putting her down or makes her "less of" than "more of."

    posted by smartcookie at 1:36 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    This may not be lazy/motivation thing. She might in fact have a crippling fear of failure due to being a perfectionist. It sounds like she's overly critical of her work, which you say is amazing. That probably means she's a perfectionist, and sometimes people like that will be afraid to put a lot of effort into something because they're afraid that they're not "the best". It's easier and safer to blame your lack of success on the fact that you didn't try, rather than on "failure" or what a perfectionist tends to perceive as failure, which is not being the absolute best at everything they do.
    posted by katyggls at 2:44 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I agree with Miko and some others: if she doesn't want to, don't push her. For a lot of people, their talent is only enjoyable so long as it's not a job. It's something they do for fun, and once you attach responsibilities to it, it's ruined for them. All my life people have pressured me about singing and how I should do something with it, but I don't like to do anything productive with it. It's the only thing I have that's entirely mine at this point, that I can enjoy without feeling pressured. I caved at one point and I made a little money doing demos, and I hated doing it. I had deadlines, and I couldn't sing things how I wanted to, or sing what I wanted to, and I couldn't just stop singing when I didn't want to anymore. It felt like the one completely free thing I had that brought me joy had been ruined.

    Same thing with writing. For a couple of consecutive years I won a few Schoolastic writing awards for my age group by submitting stories I had written not for the purpose of the contest, but for my own enjoyment. Like Miko, eeeeveryone growing up told me I should go into some writing career. That was enough to put me off writing any fiction for six years. Like Miko, I had to come back to writing on my own. I don't mind people's support now since they're not trying to force me into a career; I had to make the choice independently, after most of them thought I'd given up writing for good.

    Creative things are fun because there is a feeling of not having any boundaries. When you turn it into a job, you move somewhere down the spectrum: you have more structure, less freedom, less fun. You have deadlines and guidelines and you have to see things through to completion even once the fun is gone. I had to be okay giving up some creative freedom and structuring myself when I write. Some people get really lucky and manage not to move too far down the spectrum while maintaining a living. Most people don't, and some very, very talented people fall into this category. It has a lot to do with luck.

    It's flattering when people say things like, "You're so talented, you should do that for a living!" but not everyone wants to turn their creative talents into a job. A lot of creative people want to keep it solely as recreation so that have that a place they can go when they need a break from responsibilities. I don't think you're doing her any favors by prodding her about it, and it's likely you're intruding on her creative space. Please don't force what you want for her onto her; it may seem like it would be great if she could "pursue her passion" for a living, but the fact is if she wanted to do that, she wouldn't be backing away from opportunities. It's really not any better than parents who force their kids to be doctors or lawyers and whatnot, even though to an outside observer it doesn't seem like the same sort of grueling work. Making creative endeavors into a job often does make it grueling work. The only difference is, when you force your kid to become a doctor or lawyer, you're not necessarily ruining something that brings them joy. When you pressure a creative person to be professionally creative, you very well might be.

    So basically, the answer to your question is this: no one can make her want to "realize her potential." She has to do it herself, and she has to want to do it herself. If she doesn't want to, you should leave her alone.
    posted by Nattie at 2:50 AM on May 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

    Best answer: I would consider the possibility that art is a private pleasure for her, and that she might be saying that she wants to make a career of it because that's what everyone always feels obligated to say about any special skill they have. Keep in mind that being a successful commercial artist is primarily about using skills she hasn't demonstrated: working hard with long periods without external validation, self-motivated deadline-making, executing other people's often-questionable ideas, and pitching yourself hard. She is currently only doing the fun part, maybe because she knows there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying life as a talented amateur. At the end, we will not be judged by whether our work got enough eyeballs and then tossed into the pit for keeping our good illustrations between ourselves and our SOs.

    But, there is also something about the description (mostly the fact you say she's so good and that your encouragement is so counterproductive) which makes me wonder if she was very talented at a young age and had a toxic coach of some kind. I think this isn't that uncommon for very talented kids, and can involve the experience of being exploited for an adult's benefit and simultaneously getting inappropriate and unconstructively-negative feedback. If that is what she associates doing her art with, bleah, it isn't crazy to keep it in the safe zone as a hobby.

    If my wild speculation has any basis in fact, that isn't something you can fix for her, and pressuring her or constantly encouraging her is counterproductive -- she'd need to make a decision to deal with that stuff herself. The main thing you can do, IMO, is tell her (once) that you think her illustration is great, that you think she is great, and that you think other people would enjoy it but if she just wants to keep it between you two, you'll enjoy enough for everyone. And if she ever changes her mind and wants to make a go of it, you'll give her backup.

    Then, leave the subject alone and just enjoy (and share with her your enjoyment of) her work for what it is, not for its potential.
    posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:54 AM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

    You don't mention what your friend does with her time now in terms of job and/or pastimes. This is important since any serious move towards development of her artistic talents will mean that she will have to give up some of this. That could mean giving up on friends or security or rewards. Even if she is a super-talented illustrator and even if she is frustrated by not being able to take this further her existing career may be a better choice.
    posted by rongorongo at 3:03 AM on May 26, 2008

    There are a lot of great answers already. My suggestion would be to somehow ask her to teach you something. I'm a PhD student with various and sundry insecurities about my work (which admittedly isn't in a related field, but that's kind of irrelevant), and I find that I feel a damn sight better about myself when I can teach another student or a layperson something about my field - techniques, concepts, my experiences, whatever.
    posted by minus zero at 4:22 AM on May 26, 2008

    I've talked with her about possible barriers too, and she mentions her apartment as a serious one. She feels she has no sanctuary in which to create- she hates working in a place where anyone could come look over her shoulder (her drawing desk and her bedroom are the apartment's living room).

    How about using a room divider to maybe create a sanctuary (maybe in a corner)? Some kind of screen that will give her the feeling of seclusion she craves?
    posted by koahiatamadl at 4:24 AM on May 26, 2008

    Response by poster: Thank you all for the great answers. I mentioned before, and I think it bears reiterating, that she has talked about wanting to becoming an illustrator. The old argument of vocation vs. avocation aside, I take it to mean she wants to work on her talent, but doesn't know how or is too busy to really bother. She currently works at a huge Apple Store in NYC, 40 hours a week, and when she comes home she's usually spent and just feels like unwinding (which I can really sympathize with). The way I'm looking to approach this now, is not to focus on her illustration per se, but the entirety of her creative side. On the days that we have off together, I plan on suggesting a lot of the things Ostara mentioned.
    posted by self at 5:09 AM on May 26, 2008

    If you had my husband's writing style, and my husband had your attitude, I could think this was about me. I've favorited more comments in the last half hour than I have in seven years of reading Metafilter. I think most of the advice you've gotten is great and I don't have much more to add, but I wanted to comment on three things...
    You've made me realize I didn't include a very important detail in the OP, that she has expressed interest in pursuing illustration as a career, or at the least a hobby.
    Miko's answer was "based on her actions, here's how it seems to me" and you seem to think "oh, but her words make your answer irrelevant." From my own perspective, I've said many times what I intend to do with my drawing abilities, and for the most part haven't done it. Doesn't mean I didn't really want to -- all it means are that actions are more important than words.
    I love this girl with all I've got, and to me a large part of love is wanting to help a person grow.
    That seems to me like a high-minded version of "I want him to change -- not for me -- but for his own good." Ask anyone who's nagged their spouse how far that got them and how much their efforts were appreciated. I think a lot of my growth in the last ten years is directly related to my husband's love for me and unconditional support of whatever I want to do, which has helped me overcome a lot of feeling like I have to do everything right, feeling like nothing I do is good enough, feeling like everything I do is going to be judged. Ten years, that's a pretty long time. I can't help but think that if my husband had an eye towards consciously "helping me grow" when we started our relationship, he would have gotten bored and frustrated and bailed seven or eight years ago. (Or maybe I would have gotten tired of feeling like someone's Sim City project.)
    * Help her set up an etsy account. Convince her to join an etsy street team.
    I totally loved the rest of Ostara's post and ordinarily I wouldn't pick on it, but since this is the one that you favorited, I want to point out the one thing I would recommend you not do. If she knows Etsy exists and she wants to be a part of it, she will. Buy her a couple of things off of Etsy, send her links to things she might like, even suggest that she might enjoy having her own store, that's one thing. Sitting down with her and forcing her through a sign-up process for a site she may or may not be interested in using -- well, if it was me, I would be mad, and it would probably push me further away from it.

    If she posted a question here, I would probably have a lot to say to her, but I'm worried that your well-meaning efforts might actually turn her off from drawing or cause her to feel uncomfortable about constantly disappointing you. Foster a creative environment, help her have a space where she can work comfortably, love and support her: great. Make her feel like your love for her is tied into the visible continuation of her personal growth, preferably with regards to the development of her artistic talent: not so great.
    posted by shirobara at 5:17 AM on May 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

    Response by poster: Shirobara- To further coincidence, your name is eerily similar to my girlfriend's. You're right about actions being what I should be paying attention to, and believe me I do. You said yourself that saying one thing and not doing it does not mean you didn't want to- which is exactly why I came here for answers. It's perfectly okay for someone to have intentions, and for those intentions to become infelicitous, but that also doesn't mean I can't perhaps help a love one follow through (again, and it can't be stressed enough, not in a forceful or "for your own good" kind of way). I just want to offer proper support.

    I'm sincerely sorry if my posting has giving you the impression that I want to change her. Not at all. If I did that, she would not be the person I've fallen in love with over the years. I came here for advice on how to be supportive when the subject of her illustrating comes up, and what to do when- more often than not- she makes a sincere comment on wishing she could draw better/it came easier/she would user her art desk more.

    I do not wish to guide her at all, just to help her confidence and muse. I want her to feel like her creative spirit is free and is still in her (she has mentioned her sorrow at her lack of creativity in recent years), as I can see it is. It just breaks my heart when she gets down on herself for 'leading such a monotonous life, lacking originality and imagination', when it's clear to me that she has so much.

    I have never done anything to lead her to believe she had let me down when it came to the illustrations for the site or t-shirts. I wouldn't foster disappointment between myself and someone I love over such a sensitive and personal thing. Ever. But you're right in worrying that if I don't do this in a nurturing way, no matter how good my intentions are, that I might fuck up and give her the wrong ideas about it all. That's why I came here first, and I why I thank you all for such good advice.

    No, my love for her in no way hinges on her continued growth- no matter how visible.
    posted by self at 6:09 AM on May 26, 2008

    Now I feel like my answer was far too harsh, and I'm very sorry. I feel a lot better reading your reply, because it seems like you see things pretty reasonably and it sounds like it's a great thing for her she has you on her side! So I really am sorry, I don't think I gave you enough credit. I hope she finds a way to create and be happy with whatever she does, however she does it.
    posted by shirobara at 6:31 AM on May 26, 2008

    Have you ever known someone with so much artistic potential, who does nothing with it?

    She IS doing something with it:

    She will sit and idle doodle amazing little scenes, creatures, and people while talking or sitting with me. I am constantly amazed at how casually she comes up with these drawings, as they rival some of the best stylized illustrations I've seen out there.

    That's what artists do. They make art. She's making it.

    I'm so deeply saddened that you think "doing something with it" means monetizing it. But I used to think this way myself, so I'd be hypocritical if I chastised you. Let's just say I'm saddened that our culture repeatedly tells artists that art isn't art unless it's mixed up with commerce.

    I know it's not as simple as that. I know you're proud of her and you want other people to see how wonderful she is. And you may have other great reasons for wanting her to "do something." But all of those things -- good and bad -- aren't about making art. They're about money, self-worth, ego, pride, etc. Making art is about making art. And she IS making art.

    I create three kinds of art. I direct plays, I draw and I write. Long ago, I quit aiming for Broadway with my plays. My plays are the opposite of commercial. Naturally, I get told all the time that if I just compromise on this or that element, the plays might sell. Fuck that. Most of life is one compromise after another. If I have to compromise when I direct plays, I'd rather not direct them at all. I'm completely serious. The whole reason I direct them is so that I can realize something exactly the way I want to realize it. That's the point for me. I don't do it to get famous or have fans or make a living or get praise. I do it to work through something -- to connect with a story. I don't want commerce (or anything else) to get in the way of that.

    (There is a tiny tiny possibility that my plays could become successful. I DO live in the theatre capital of the USA, where occasionally there's a Horatio Alger event. I doubt it will happen, but the possibility always looms. And I look upon it with a certain amount of dread. It would be so great for my collaborators to get some money out of this hobby. The actors I work with mostly have shitty day jobs that they hate. So if the unlikely happened, and a big producer offered to transfer one of my shows to Broadway, I'd be pretty darn selfish to say no. I'd say yes, but I'd do so with a lot of fear of what it would mean for my life. I don't want Broadway -- with all of its commercial, social and political concerns -- to impede what I do, what I love. But I'm also not immune to money. I might get seduced. I might wind up living in a bigger apartment, in a better part of town... hating what I do.)

    I feel even more that way about my drawings. I've tried to monetize them, but whenever I get an assignment, I can't do it. Inspiration literally dries up. I'm don't believe one needs to be inspired to all activities. In my day job -- programming -- I'm quite capable of doing grunt work when I'm not "feeling it." But I can't do that with drawing. It's too personal. If I'm not "in it," there's no it.

    Writing? I've been doing it for money. And I recently realized that I'm not enjoying it. I can't WAIT until the current book is finished. It's the last one I'll do for money for a long time (maybe ever). And I'm not going to look for a publisher for the next one. I'm just going to write it. I'm going to write about whatever tickles my fancy. Maybe it will never get published. But my goal, as a writer, isn't To Get Published. I'm a WRITER. My goal is TO WRITE.

    I'm not dismissing the hoards of great artists who do commercial work. I know some artists who are even inspired to greatness by non-artistic motives. The point is "whatever works for you." The point is Making Art. If money and success help you make it, then more power to you. If not, don't strive for those things. Or do strive for them, but not artistically. If you want money or job security or praise, there are a million easier ways to get those things than by making art. And I've seen SO many artists long to "be able to do it for a living" who, when they've achieved their goal, wind up hating it. Because it's Their Job.
    posted by grumblebee at 6:43 AM on May 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

    Best answer: Having just read your latest post, self, I feel similar to shirobara.

    You know, I do want praise and attention for my art. I want it from my wife, from my family, from my friends. I don't care as much about getting it from strangers. It sounds like you're doing what you should be doing. Enjoying her art. And doing so in her presence.

    The other thing you can do (in my opinion, the only other thing you should do, unless she specifically asks for something else) is to help create an inspirational environment for her. I agree with posters who suggest you take her to museums, etc.

    Also, make sure she always has what she needs at home. It sucks to want to draw and not be able to find a working pen (or whatever). Does she need quiet when she works? Does she need a certain sort of music? Make it happen for her!

    If she's into it, frame here doodles and hang them everywhere.
    posted by grumblebee at 6:50 AM on May 26, 2008

    As someone who has personally wrestled with this very question almost all my life, and since I cannot read her mind, I can only add my perspective.

    There is lot to the argument that turning what you love (in her case, drawing) into your profession can destroy your love for that thing. I've experienced that very effect. It takes a very strong-willed and self-confident individual to stand their ground and not bend (or break) in the face of the commercial pressures that can often dilute the pleasure you get from your art, as well as the art itself.

    Yes, it's all part of the business. But...and this seems to be a very heretical thing to say these days...not everyone wants to be, or has the ability to be, in business. Being a businessperson is not a natural or comfortable thing for many, many people. She probably, deep down, understands this about herself, yet feels the pressure people, and our culture in general, to "do something" with her talent. It's a sad truth about our culture that we feel we must commodify everything. And, if you aren't making money with whatever talent you have, you definitely feel the burden of being a "failure" least in general society's eyes.

    I suspect she feels this pressure to turn her love into a revenue stream and sees illustration as more of an easy answer to shut people up, rather than a true vocation that she's seriously interested in pursuing for the rest of her life.

    Definitely be there to help her when (or if) she decides to actually get serious about making a career with her art. But accept it, without reservation, if she prefers to keep her art personal and non-commercial.
    posted by Thorzdad at 6:55 AM on May 26, 2008

    My brother is an incredibly talented guitarist and musician in general. After takins some jazz guitar classes in college, he decided he didn't want to teach and only plays for fun, usually jamming with my father or his other musician friends. He has no aspirations of any sort, he's not even serious about starting a band. He records with my father but I don't think he has any ambition whatsoever with this very essential part of his life. In addition, he can pick up any and all instruments. He plays the drums, and he also can sit at a piano and compose intricate songs--he never learned to play piano, but claims it's 'easy' because he knows how to play guitar. He can also play the harmonica.

    It's frustrating because on the one hand I want to say 'What is wrong with you? I would kill to be as talented as you are at any one instrument' but on the other hand I know my brother and I know that he won't do something if he doesn't want to. I think it comes down to a pretty fundamental lack of self-esteem and the fact that if you don't try you can't fail, and if you never tried and failed then what can anyone else say about your talents?
    posted by nonmerci at 7:06 AM on May 26, 2008

    My brother and a friend are both this way to different degrees. They are both so unbelievably creative - my brother across multiple media and the friend in painting and drawing. Both have the same issue that other people here have mentioned, though. They want to be creative when they want to be creative, not on demand for a job. I've got a lesser degree of the family talent myself and experienced some of the same thing when I did graphic design for a while. I felt like a whore or a draught animal and hated it. I would have people look over my shoulder and actually direct me at the pixel level. WTF aaaaah! Not a good creative outlet. Nobody really wanted me to be creative - they just wanted whatever they wanted but couldn't make it themselves. So I can understand why they don't want to do it. The friend even did portraits professionally for a while, and they were fantastic, but quit for the same reason.

    I look at what my brother is capable of and then at what he's doing instead (terrible go-nowhere menial job), and I just think how much better and happier and fulfilled his life could be if he took advantage of the natural talents he has that the rest of us just can't even understand, much less emulate. I love him and want the very best for him and I hurt when he hurts, but I just have to let him live his life. No amount of nudging or suggestions from me or the family have ever taken root. I think it grates after a while.
    posted by Askr at 7:08 AM on May 26, 2008

    After reviewing your responses, I have to agree with Shirobara that the best thing you can do is still not to do too much about it. I'll try to explain better...

    When you're creative as a hobby, sometimes even gentle encouragement from others can shut down creativity. It's because there are suddenly goals in the creative process outside of simply creating, and these things pop into your head when you shouldn't be thinking about anything else. When you go to create things, it's not just about you anymore, or a way to relax or pass the time or express yourself; there's also the thought of how others, especially loved ones, will react if you meet your goals or not. It doesn't matter if those people just want you to be happy and are thrilled with anything you do. It doesn't matter if your goals are broad and nebulous and not set in stone.

    Try to bear with me here as I explain this odd little thing: You second-guess yourself more when other people have the slightest investment in your creativity. You ask yourself things like, "Is this good enough?" "Is this helping me reach my goals or is this not worth the time I'm spending on it?" So, right now your girlfriend might draw stuff because it pleases her to do so, and it's creative and turns out wonderful. If she has goals in mind, she might start to draw something because it pleases her... and a third of the way through, put down her pencil and think, "Is this accomplishing something?" or "This sucks." And she'll try to think of what to draw instead, what to do with her drawings, and just freeze up because she'll feel like letting her creativity flow naturally isn't productive... but what else can she do? A month of this might pass and she'll be no closer to her goals. Then she starts thinking, "This is embarrassing, I'm not getting anywhere... people see me working at this and must wonder what the hold-up is. I don't even know what the hold-up is."

    Trust me on this, because I did this same thing for a long, long time, and my loved ones are so supportive of me. What helped me was to disengage from other people, to stop talking about my writing. It let me focus on actually creating, as grumblebee put it, and not tying up my creativity with commerce or other people (no matter how well-intentioned) or anything else. What your girlfriend is doing right now is the important part. Getting out of that "everyone is so supportive of me, crap I can't do anything" stage is difficult, and I can't even give some good pointers for navigating her out of it because it's so messy. She's just going to have to do it herself, and that's easier when other people seem somewhat indifferent, ironically. So even though you do sound like you have her best interests in mind and just want to be supportive, I wouldn't do anything overt about it.

    Ostara's suggestions are good, subtle ways of encouraging her creativity. I would not mention to her that your intention is to foster her creativity. Keep in mind, though, that even if she's feeling very creative, it doesn't mean she'll do anything with it. It's all ultimately on her.

    I completely agree with Shirobara, too, when she says that what helps is her husband's unconditional support of whatever she does. All you can do is make it clear that you're happy if she decides to do something with her drawing, and just as happy if she doesn't. If you seem too happy about her doing creative things, she will think of you when she is doing creative things, and the creativity slows to a stop. I know, it's weird.

    The thing about not wanting other people to come look over her shoulder also sounds SO much like me. I need to be in a tiny place with no distractions and absolutely no other people to get any writing done. That means I need to leave the apartment (too many distractions) and go to the library or somewhere else that I can get a quiet, enclosed space to myself. Also, the bit about her being distracted by someone looking over her shoulder, to me, seems to make stronger the idea I put forth above. I've personally found the two to have a common connector that you might want to look into...

    Not everyone is like this, but those of us who are need special working conditions. (Others might call it prissy but they don't understand.) I've always accredited it to being an HSP, because I am easily distracted by any sort of incoming sensory data. I can't focus on being creative under any of the following circumstances: if I'm hungry, if I'm too full, if it is loud, if there is any sort repeating noise (even if it's quiet), if I smell something, if it is too bright, if it is too hot, if it is too cold, if I am at all tired, if I am uncomfortable in any way, if anyone else is present and capable of looking at me.

    My mind races and latches onto any other subject it sees as well, so I can't use a computer that's connected to the internet. I'll use it to look up a word, and then I'll see *other* words, and my mind starts making all these connections and before long I've completely lost the thread of thought I was originally working with. This is only good for coming up with ideas, not actually doing the hard work of making them into something. Other people can ignore a lot of those things and have a higher threshold for others. I wish I could do that, but according to research my nervous system is wired differently; no point in my trying to be someone who I'm not. I have to work around all that stuff instead, and put myself in situations where those things can't bother me.

    You should have your girlfriend check and see if she is an HSP. It will let her know if she needs to alter her environment. If you do that, and if you don't overtly encourage her, you might see some good results.
    posted by Nattie at 8:26 AM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

    I think there is another element to creative types not 'fulfilling their potential'. If you do something for you, for fun and you get positive attention and feedback from S0s, friends etc - it can make you kind of special and unique in their eyes, but it's also a very safe environment in which to explore. The minute you do it seriously/commercially you place yourself in a competitive arena in which you're going to have to deal with the response of equally talented peers who will have a critical opinion (good or bad) of your work. They may or may not be subjective in their analysis of your work, but they won't place your output within the wider context of you as a known individual and that is a scary thing to subject yourself to.

    Making art is an intensely personal thing and you need a tough hide to expose yourself like that. I think that not putting it out there is actually a very sane response for some creative/sensitive types. We build defenses for a reason, and as much as you love and fiercely support and believe in her work, in the real world you're going to be in a minority. She'll find her way when/if she's ready to make that leap of faith for herself.
    posted by freya_lamb at 8:56 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Second on Your Time Machine Sucks and the others who think maybe this her private thing. Doing something for work means polluting that thing with all the bad mojo of work - maybe she realizes this and wants her "doodling" to be pure and hers alone. Not every great mom should open a day care or go into teaching, you know.

    Nice that you want to help her grow. I hope for both your sakes that she appreciates this.
    posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:58 AM on May 26, 2008

    P.s. Not saying there's nothing you can do - loving her and providing space and support is exactly right. You're doing fine!
    posted by freya_lamb at 8:59 AM on May 26, 2008

    I work around "working artists/writers" (comic field) and there's a lot of hard work in actually landing work when you are freelancing, especially if you have a family to support. My boyfriend's a totally talented artist, and I support him but dont push him - because frankly, you cant make someone want to work that hard - they have to want to do it. And that's just landing the work - not even doing the art/writing.
    posted by fillsthepews at 10:35 AM on May 26, 2008

    I have a friend like this. He's a brilliant writer who's one of the few who can make a living off of it. He has in the past and could again if he wanted. But it's a tough, meager living with no health benefits, and the self-discipline it requires to do in any kind of reasonable way is frankly beyond him. He's much happier working a regular job that intersects with his interests (or at least is undemanding enough to allow him to do his 35 hours/week and forget about it) and then coming home to blog as a hobby. He appreciates me much more if I read his blog and chat about it with him, than if I nag him about actually getting paid for it because he's "such a good writer."

    So I'd say the best way you can be supportive of your girlfriend is not through some preconceived (and dare I say, paternalistic and calvinistic) notions of "personal growth" and "duty to develop talent," but rather through doing fun, non-ends-oriented creative things with her---simply because you and she both enjoy it. Because in the end, isn't a relationship about being happy together, not about "personal growth"?
    posted by footnote at 10:52 AM on May 26, 2008

    I've been told more than once that I missed my calling by not pursuing visual art as a career. When I need to draw something for a project, I do. I've done various things as needed. I've sold the odd thing -- that I created because I wanted to. I didn't go to art school because when I looked at the application process and heard other people talking about it, it did feel whorish (as someone else described above, working like a draft animal -- no pun intended.) I don't regret my choice, though I wonder about it sometimes.

    If she has no faith in her work but does want to make something about it, I'd recommend Steve Pavlina's web site, as he seems to be someone who does what he wants the way he wants while very much not compromising his own well being, values and emotional states and tries to help other people succeed on their own terms. I imagine she could learn something from him. I'm using his free materials for encouragement and stimulation at the moment, myself. I won't link his blog here, as it's easy to find with his name.
    posted by Listener at 10:56 AM on May 26, 2008

    My father is amazingly talented. Since he was young, everyone has told him he was an artist, made a big deal over his art, blah, blah, blah. Now he lives in a barn in upstate New York raising pit bulls and doing tattoos.

    Talent is not motivation. But sadly enough, talent is also not concept. Just because my father can draw anything you ask of him in a variety of styles doesn't mean he has anything to say, to convey or to share with the world. (In fact, the same could be said of my grandmother before him and of me.) And that's something you can't force someone into, or even teach someone to do.

    So, heck, don't talk to her about her drawing if she's not comfortable with it. Talk to her about what she's passionate about, what pisses her off, what am uses her. Get her cool things that other people are doing - even outside of illustration.

    And accept the fact that it may be simply something that she does well. Perhaps she'll find something that drives her to create. Or perhaps it will always be a hobby. The world is full of people who could have been the next great whatever who find plenty of happiness being "normal" people.
    posted by Gucky at 11:48 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Hi. I am an artist and I live with one, too.
    We call this "The Curse"
    Whatever we do is never good enough and we constantly compare ourselves to other artists, even each other. Then we pout and stomp around, crying "God, I wish I could draw! I suck so bad!"
    Most people think art is an easy and fun career, but it is just as hard as any other job out there. The clients are never happy with what you make and keep sending it back to the kitchen so you can make it look more like another artist's work, in fact, can you just completely copy his stuff?
    My roomie and I both have some regret about making our hobbies into careers and daydream about being baristas instead. Somewhere inside, we know we were both destined to do art and that really, we don't have much say in the matter. So we keep churning out sketches and pixels, and eventually, we create something so amazing, we feel like somehow we cheated and it really isn't our work... but isn't it just fantastic? Then we ride that high into the next project with the next client from hell who expects an overnight miracle.
    We also don't keep other artists' work around, no matter how much we love Audrey,Sam, Jeremy, and the like. It only serves as a reminder of our own artistic flaws and isn't inspirational at all. Reconsider buying that other illustrator's work and enlarge a favorite page of her sketches and frame that instead.

    Your girlfriend will never be confident as an artist. She will always put projects off. It's just how artists are and you'll probably never understand since to you, it is a magical process. The best thing that helped me get over my own issues, was when my roommate told me that she has her own doubts and goes through this as well. I admired her art before we ever met and tore myself up because I could never even begin to draw such lines that she had. Know this - Every artist suffers for their work.
    posted by idiotfactory at 2:16 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I think idiotfactory has a good point about being good enough. It's lovely to get compliments from significant others and friends, but if you're a doubtful artist, you might be saying to yourself, well, they don't know better. They can't see that I fucked up the composition, and that I really don't get colour theory. So, one of the nicest confidence builders I ever had was the 40th birthday present art classes (acrylic painting) my husband sent me to, and while I did learn a lot, and I enjoyed myself hugely being with people who liked doing the same things I did, I was shocked to learn that I was actually quite good (told you so, he said, and earned a harsh look), and my work now is on the Art School's website. So maybe a gift of lessons?
    posted by b33j at 2:52 PM on May 26, 2008

    Years ago I interrned for a pro football organization, and there was one major thing that I noticed about talent. Generally speaking you could split people into about four groups. You have people with talent and without. Within those two groups there are the people who use and work with their given talent and those who don't.
    So at the pro level you would have about three of the four of those groups. Now there was quite a few people without much talent and yet worked their asses off. Some of these people would stand out and snag a starting position at gametime. As opposed to that, there where a few who had a boatload of potential and realy didn't put much work in at all. These people got away with just doing a minimal amount of work and got playtime just because of genetics and a better adapted nervous system. The last subsection of these groups is people who have talent and push themselves to a higher potential. You read about these guys all the time in the sports sections. Most of these guys are the all stars.
    After learning this, everytime I come across someone with a talent, I'm always interested to learn how they apply themselves. Surprisingly, more often than not, the people who do have talent don't really apply themselves at all. Why should they? They've always gotten away with being good and not really having to do anything. I had quite a few friends from high school who had tons of talent, and yet years later they never did anything with it.
    So, really, this problem doesn't surprise me in the least.
    My suggestion would be to get involved with her. Do something together. What've you got to lose?
    posted by P.o.B. at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2008

    Surprisingly, more often than not, the people who do have *natural* talent don't really apply themselves at all.
    posted by P.o.B. at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Just because someone has a talent doesn't obligate them to "use" it. And by "use," it seems to me that you mean "do professionally," since it sounds like your girlfriend draws for pleasure already. Why does it matter so much to you what she does with her talents?
    posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:39 PM on May 26, 2008

    I can play anything brass - cornet, trumpet, flugel horn, bugle, baritone, euphonium, French horn and trombone - but don't. I just wish I could play guitar or piano instead. Is that a waste? *shrug*
    posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:03 AM on May 27, 2008

    Only one data point here, similar to others, but I’m joining in FWIW….. I can somewhat put myself in your girlfriend’s place. I have great abilities in drawing, painting and sculpting. But, I have always taken that native talent for granted and never thought my work was anything more special than that of others. I even went to college on a scholarship to pursue a degree in fine arts. I have the talent. But, when I went to school, I admitted to myself that I didn’t really have the desire to really be a professional artist as I am a perfectionist and couldn’t handle the constant personal disappointment with myself/mywork.

    Art: It’s not something you can make yourself do. It has to be something that you can’t not do. Really.

    So, I followed my other love, which is social sciences and ended up with a degree in sociology and demography. And, I kept at artistic creations as an enjoyable hobby. 8 years later, my real inspiration hit and I went back to school to gain degree in architecture (greatly aided by the loving support and approval of my hubby.) After gaining a few years of “life-experience”, I had developed the ability to reconcile my perfectionism with the realities of life and could withstand the vile and harsh critics that is the “hallmark” of architecture school in the US.

    It may be that she has some inner truth that’s telling her that the tears, self-doubt and frustration of being a professional artist isn’t where she wants to be right now. Maybe not, but it’s something to consider. Continue to enjoy her talents! I like the suggestion to frame and display her work. Maybe you can create a webpage for her work. All of these things may allow her to see her talent with new appreciation.
    posted by mightshould at 5:54 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

    "Realizing her potential" is your own goal, not hers. She may be happy drawing when she feels like it.

    Every hobby needn't turn into a career. Especially if she enjoys aspects of it that are not considered important in a professional/monetized environment. Life's too short and if she wants to spend only part of her time doodling, it's her prerogative.
    posted by ersatz at 6:52 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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