I have a complex personal relationship with art. It’s not so much a secret talent, but an unmentioned one, and with reason.
Growing up, I absolutely loved drawing. I was good at it, at least as good as an 8-year-old can be with pencil case full of colour pencils, and I loved it. In hindsight to that time, I can see why lots of people nowadays use art as mindfulness – you can relax and hone your focus, or just fend off boredom – but now I have the urge to avoid it.
When I went into GCSE art at 14, the best and worst thing happened: I improved tenfold in the space of two drawings, a sudden natural talent, achieving realism I’d never even dreamed of.
Everything had to be perfect. I spent hours on end agonising over a single, palm-sized drawing. I had fits of rage and refused help, persevering through self-hatred until I was finished for the day, miserable and exhausted. I hated it.
The summer after GCSEs I tried to rectify the problem and turn it back into a hobby, but later ended up dropping A-level art after two lectures. It wasn’t a chore anymore, but it was still pure misery.
Time off helped me appreciate what I’m capable of, and very slowly I’m getting back into it; I average at about one drawing a year now. I still spend hours poring over tiny details, but it’s not fuelled by disdain anymore, and it shows. My art is better and I can actually be proud of it.
However, there’s a lot I still need to work around. I never learnt how to draw original work, things that aren’t just photocopies, and it’s frustrating to feel that potential waste away. I follow a whole hoard of comic and animation artists online and admittedly feel jealous seeing the amazing work they produce. But then again, the uniqueness and beauty of each piece brightens the cynical void that my social media feeds were starting to become, and I’m endlessly grateful for that.
And now that I’m putting it into writing, I’ll hopefully be able to start following. I’m only 20. I have plenty of time to learn. I know full well that the artists I love didn’t magically start off where they currently are, and they openly talk about their own struggles with their personal expectations of themselves. I still have to fight that perfectionist urge to be brilliant at everything straight away, and I can’t let that get me down anymore.
Plus, I have other art forms that I’m good at and constantly developing in – audio-video production, layout design, and writing, both about others and myself. If I can enjoy those sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding creative processes, then I know I can learn to love fine art again, while being kind to myself in the process.
It’s taken a long time to get to this stage, and I know it’ll take a lot longer to get where I want. Art will always be complex for me; unlearning its negative effects on my mental health has been hard but I’m getting there, and acknowledging that fact is at least a step in the right direction.
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