I guess I’ve always assumed “teacher” meant an actual person, like a mentor. It would be cool to have a sensei like Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid,” someone who would take me on a life-altering journey of transformation, rebirth, and realization of an inner power I never knew existed. Right?
Looking back over the last two years of my life, I realize that somehow I have indeed summoned the exact teacher I needed to appear—my very own Mr. Miyagi—although my teacher hasn’t been an actual person at all. My teacher has been art.
I simply woke up one morning with the desire to paint, so I enrolled in a local class. I had never painted before, but it didn’t take me long to discover acrylics, watercolors, collage, photography and mixed media. I even traveled half way around the world to Bali to study intuitive painting.
Art lured me in by my curiosity, but has kept me faithful because of both its joys and challenges. There’s something scary, yet exhilarating about tapping into the uncomfortable unknown and bringing forth something new. There’s something special about getting an apron dirty and finding paint on the back of one of my calves two days later. I’m delighted to see my work hanging on a wall regardless of how “perfect” it is, because I created it. I love the high that comes with overcoming a creative block, and I love how feeling unbearably stuck always leads to new understandings if I open myself up to learning them. Each painting I’ve created has a story; each article I’ve written has offered a lesson. And I appreciate all of it.
I’ve had some of the best instructors along the way. I know this because one of the marks of a great teacher is that he or she gives you enough skills and encouragement so that when class is over, you go home and keep practicing on your own. That’s when my learning has grown exponentially—at home staring at a blank canvas or out in nature playing around with my camera. It’s in the practice and honing of the craft. The success comes in learning from others, but then diving deeper in by myself. It’s facing those moments when I don’t know how to proceed or what mark to make next, and then doing something to move forward anyway. This can be hard, but I try to keep going because once I’m on the other side, it’s more than worth it.
Life itself unfolds as we create it. Every day we make decisions that shape our future, and we make choices based on our perceptions and understanding of the world. For me, art has been a tangible, physical representation of the way I create everything. It gives me something specific to look at.
Am I having trouble starting a painting? Where else in my life am I not able to start—in a relationship, a career, or a healthy habit?
How do I create when no one is looking?
Do I judge my painting and feel bad, like it’s somehow part of my identity? I’ve learned paintings are not who I am; they’re just something I create. I’ve had to ask myself if there are other areas in my life where I judge or feel bad for my choices when they’re just things I’ve created along the way, too.
What’s going on in my life when I start a slew of projects and don’t finish any of them? These types of patterns might be fine if I’m choosing to be that way, but if I’m creating this way unconsciously, this new awareness gives me the option of changing those patterns if I desire.
Art has taken me under its wing like any great mentor would. It hasn’t just told me all the answers, but has guided me to figure things out for myself, to draw out what is already within me and to support my growth. Art has changed me without me even realizing it at the time. And it knew exactly when I was ready.
Author: Amy Yadron
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Photo: author’s own