Life lessons from art class

Recently I began taking drawing classes. I’ve never considered myself much of an artist and have never taken any kind of art lessons before, so I entered the class as a blank slate of sorts.

On the first day, my instructor, Beth Smith, gave me a handout on which she had listed “Rules for Drawing.” As I read the list and have worked with the principles since, I learned that some of the rules of drawing might also translate into some lessons for living.

Work simple to complex, light to dark, large to small, and general to specific. I have found that I tend to be a detail-oriented person. While this trait can be a gift, I also struggle with the tendency to get bogged down in the small things. To use another well-worn metaphor, I often “can’t see the forest for the trees.” This drawing rule reminded me to approach tasks or problems by looking at the simple or the general first, to consider the big picture before getting fixated on the complex details.

Draw what you see, not what you think you see. Several times in my art classes I have been tempted to draw a still-life portrait with the lines that I think should make up the shape rather than replicating the image I see. I know how a pear should look, and so I try to draw the pear as I imagine it instead of actually looking at the pear in front of me. My mind tries to work harder than my eyes, and I get it all wrong. Likewise, making assumptions about how we expect something or someone to be without really taking the time to see them, or to listen, or to ask, will lead to a perspective that is askew. Take time to see things as they are.

Eagerly accept the risk of errors. Let the effort to correct errors be the fabric of your work. So often we do not take risk for fear of doing it wrong. Art, and life, are full of mistakes, yet we often try to avoid mistakes at all cost. If we don’t allow ourselves to make errors, we cannot correct our errors, and we do not grow. As writer Samuel Beckett said when asked how he achieved such great work, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Draw it, and then use the eraser if you need to.

Embrace time as a medium alongside pencil and paper or canvas and paint. So often we are driven by deadlines, and we do not give ourselves the time to be creative and let our work develop as it could. Instead of seeing time as the enemy, we should embrace time as a tool, allowing our work to grow over time and not be bound by the limits we place on it. Claude Monet painted over 250 paintings of water lilies over his last 30 years of life. He embraced time as a medium and never stopped trying to make his work better.

So far, no one has asked to frame my drawings for their home, and I’m not sure I’ll ever see my work in a museum or art show, but for now, I’m soaking up the lessons from drawing class and finding that I’m learning more than just how to put pencil to paper. I’m learning about myself as well, and I’m learning that lessons for living can be found just about anywhere if you’re paying attention.

The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.