It was just a picture of a lion, and I was just a kid who thought that lions were cool to draw.

This is the story of how I stopped drawing, and came to believe that I “couldn’t” draw.

Before I was six or seven, I loved to draw. So I drew, I painted, and I really enjoyed it. And I was really proud of the pictures I made. 

That’s not to say that the pictures I drew or painted were particularly good. My paintings and pictures were a child’s paintings and pictures, lacking in perspective and depth, or even realism. But painting for the joy of it, without worrying about things like that is a child’s prerogative, something that can grow into something more given time, encouragement, and nurturing. But at that time I was just making pictures because I enjoyed it.

And then I stopped. And I remember when I stopped and why.

I was a sensitive kid. I was easily embarrassed, and hated feeling that way. My face would go very red and I would want to hide. I took the things that were said to me to heart. I lacked a certain amount of confidence in myself. This was tied up with my dyscalculia. After all, if couldn’t do simple math (simple to other people, that is) what other supposedly easy things couldn’t I do? The math thing really made me doubt myself, doubt my ability, made me think I was stupid. But the story of how dyscalculia eroded my childhood self confidence is another post altogether.

But this is when I stopped drawing.

We had a babysitter, and my parents were out. I remember painting. And I was painting a lion. I was very proud of the lion was drawing. I selected light brown paint, for body, including its flower shaped mane, and I gave it a smiling face because why wouldn’t a lion be happy? And I gave it long claws, because that’s what a lion had in my child’s mind. It was a perfectly serviceable child’s lion. And I showed it to the sitter, quite proud of my work. And the critique I got was that my drawing didn’t look like a lion, and a detailed description of everything wrong with it. And after that I no longer enjoyed drawing.

I remember this moment quite vividly. This shattering of my confidence. And this moment, started to take root into my mind, as it grew into the idea that I could not draw, that I some lacked ability. And so I stopped drawing. And when opportunities to draw or do art came up, I simply said that I couldn’t draw.

And of course, because I wasn’t drawing, I didn’t draw, so it became true: I couldn’t draw.

And I know people who draw and make beautiful art. People who make comics. People who design. And I admit that yhave been jealous of their ability, because I imagine things that I want to draw, projects that I want to create, and I can imagine myself drawing. But when I pick up a pencil, I just “can’t”. That lack self confidence that was planted so many years ago rears up, and the self fulfilling statement continues “I can’t draw”. 

I know that it’s all in my head. I’m determined to release this mental block, and to unlearn this idea that I have that I “can’t” draw. It’s an old belief, and that makes it hard to let go of, but not impossible.

My Nuit Blanche 2014 Picks

Each year, I take a look at the upcoming Scotiabank Nuit Blanche program and try to figure out what I think are the most promising installations of the night. My challenge is that many of the descriptions in the program are conceptual. There will be no way to know until the night of which will live up to their promise.

Of particular interest this year is the change in zone areas. Gone are the Bloor – Yonge – Bay – Liberty zones of previous years. This year the zones are found around Spadina, Queen W, Fort York, Roundhouse Park and Nathan Phillips Square.

Here are my picks for this year:

global rainbow Global Rainbow looks like it might be worth seeing. A laser light installation that simulates a giant rainbow, projected from Spadina on the CN Tower. From the description, this might be hard to miss. The description says this can be seen from all areas, so this installation might be inescapable (recommended viewing area is at Spadina, south of Dundas).

walk among worlds Look at Walk Among Worlds. Look at it! This looks like DC Comics’ Multiverse come to life. I don’t know what else to say about it. A walk through a room filled with globes. Could be really stunning to walk through.

AMAZE has just an artists rendering in the program. But if it is half as cool as the concept (an immersive multi-sensory labyrinth), then it will definitely be worth looking at. Shy Lights also catches my eye as potentially awesome. An installation of lights that try to avoid you? Could be fun. Holoscenes could also be visually stunning. The Fortune Teller Machine – Zardoz has the promise of taking something away with you: a fortune and a “gift”. Some of my favourite installations over the years have had something that you take away with you. Like “All Night Convenience” two years ago, which let attendees take a product-lantern with them.

big top

Big Top Grand Stand. A big top tent, constructed of various structures, a garish and striking circus tent, without function. A converted concession stand, made into  something new.

Dress Rehearsal has been posted all over. Its picture is found on the Nuit Blanche home page. It is found in most articles about the event. Three light boxes containing performers going through various motions, as well as projected images. The visuals are sure to be striking.

There are many more installations listed in the program, which is currently only available in digital form on the snbTO website. Which ones are you looking forward to?

A caveat: These picks are based on the descriptions in the Nuit Blanche program. There is no way of knowing, until the night itself which installations will live up to their promise. The only way to enjoy Nuit Blanche is to go with an open mind. Go with the flow, listen for what’s cool. See as much as you can. Don’t expect to have your mind blown; expect to be entertained, and you might end up having your mind blown.

Nuit Blanche 2013 picks

Tonight is Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, the annual art thing, and its become a thing for me to post my picks before the event. These are the things I’m most looking forward to seeing.

First, I have a couple of concerns. One of which is the weather. Thought tonight might be the warmest Nuit Blanche I remember, it might also be the wettest. Hopefully the rain holds off.

Another concern is how concentrated everything is. All of the main zones this year are concentrated in the downtown core, between University and Jarvis. While this makes getting around on foot much easier, it does mean that the crowds will be more concentrated as well. We shall see how the night goes in that respect.

Now, on to my picks:

First has to be Forever Bicycles by Ai Weiwei. This is one of the hyped installations this year, but the hype is probably justified. Over three thousand interconnected bicycles forming a structure sounds like something to see.

Crash Cars sounds interesting, but its one of those installations that could be either really amazing or kinda lame. It all depends on the execution.

Garden Tower in Toronto looks to be one of those visually stunning pieces. One of the reasons Nuit Blanche is so great is that you often get to experience things that are out of the ordinary. Something that really makes admire the ingenuity and creativity of a piece. This looks like one of those to me.

A living room in an Alley? That’s what Take a Load Off sounds like. Could be a real comfy place to settle in for a bit.

In another zone, Howl looks like it might be worth seeing. In the same zone, Campfire also looks promising.

For me though, all of Parade seems most promising. There looks to be some real ingenuity in this stationary parade, where the floats don’t move but the spectators do. Installations like (X)Static Clown Factory, and PARALLAX stand out, but frankly all of the “floats” in parade likely have something to offer.

What are you looking forward to seeing?

The Importance of the Arts and Government Funding

Yesterday, Howard Sherman, the director of the American Theatre Wing posted a blog entitled This is not a Political Blog.  In this blog post, he opens a discussion about why governments find it so easy to cut arts funding programs, like the National Endowment for the Arts in the US, or the various arts programs that have been cut (or threatened with cuts) in Canada (for example see the situation in BC).

The heart of the discussion starts with this statement:

The reason the NEA (and the NEH and NPR and PBS) make for such easy targets is that their audiences and their artists fail to make a case for their intrinsic value.

He has an excellent point.  Those of us who are involved in the arts and for whom the arts matter to a great deal can talk about how important the arts are, but mostly we’re preaching to the choir.  How do we make this something that people who aren’t involved in the arts believe in?  In the blog post, Mr. Sherman talks about how, from time to time, there have been talks about creating a “Got milk” advertising campaign for the arts.  After all, pork, cotton and milk still have to remind people of their importance, why not the arts?

But is an advertising campaign really the way to go about it?  I’m not so sure.  How would an advertising campaign be paid for?  If the people behind the campaign used even a few cents of public money, you know for a fact that this would be jumped on by the folks at The Sun, and likely decried by the conservative leaders (See Stephen Harper’s “Average Canadians” comments from a few years ago).  So, what to do?

The part of the blog post that really got me thinking was this:

A big part of the problem is that those of us who are profoundly dedicated to the arts hold them as a sacred belief; we are called to them as surely as religious leaders are called to the cloth. Yet to pursue the comparison, religious leaders spend one day every week making the case for the relevancy and value of their religion (these are called sermons), while we spend our time selling tickets to individual productions or exhibits.

He’s absolutely right.  We don’t spend a lot of time making the case for the relevancy or value of our craft.  Rather, we do a lot of shilling for people to buy show tickets.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be trying to sell our shows.  Rather, why aren’t we spending more time encouraging people to go to other people’s shows as well?  And not just within the same disciplines.  Theatre people should be promoting dancers, art gallery shows, etc.  How else can we raise awareness of the arts that are occurring all around us.

People who are passionate about the arts “get” that they are important.  People who don’t really care about the arts (and thus don’t go to see shows, galleries, etc), don’t see why they are important.  For them, the arts are something for the “elite” or the rich.  Something that’s not for them.  And I think that in a way, we feed this belief by doing little more than promoting our own stuff.  If we’re not acting as boosters for the arts in general then how can someone who thinks of the arts as a waste of public money think of us as anything other than (as our Prime Minister put it) whiners complaining about our cushy, subsidized lifestyles [paraphrased].

I think we all need to do more to talk up other shows, other artists, other disciplines.  We all need to work harder to raise general awareness of the arts, bridge the gap between those who care about the arts, and those who don’t yet care about the arts.

To that end, if you have something you want me to promote, let me know about it.  I’ll promote the heck out of it, be it theatre, dance, a gallery show, whatever.  All I ask, is that you do the same.  Promote a show that’s not yours.  Promote something outside of your discipline.  Boost the arts in general, rather than just the thing you are directly involved with.

How else can we “make the case for the case for the relevancy and value of our art”?