It's All Art

Like you, I'm a failed artist.

It's All Art
"(Black) Girls Flowers" - Kelley and "Mountain Lake" - Antoine, acrylic paint on 8x12 cotton canvases, via Jooz

Kelley and I did a couple of paint-by-numbers pieces for an at-home date night. It took a few days to finish, but I found it incredibly satisfying. Doing it reminded me of Ryan Holiday's The Way, the Enemy, and the Key. The obstacles were my past and my aversion to finishing what wasn't already perfect. The enemy was my ego, the short-sighted and immature perspective that this effort might be a poor use of my valuable (🙄) time and energy. The key was the stillness in the act and the time I shared with my wife. She later told me it's called Parallel Play.

Thanks bae.

Since then, we've bought a coloring book and a pack of markers. With my kids getting older and more interested in gaming or watching Netflix, I've claimed their old crayons and colored pencils as well.

"Jelly Addicts" - Antoine Butler (2024), on recycled 8x11 Crayola paper, colored with Crayola Super Tips (Washable Markers)

Wanna Color With Me?

I asked my 11-year-old.

He quietly acquiesced, took a sheet of paper, grabbed a few markers, and went to work. It didn't last long. He has a lot of emotional intelligence and an impressive ability to communicate it.

The colors keep coming out darker than I want. My shadows are getting in the way, and there's not good lighting in here. It's not that it's bad. It's just not what I'm picturing in my head, and it's really frustrating me.

Damn. I can't argue with that observation and don't want to dismiss his feelings. I'd stubbornly push through myself, worsening the experience in the long run. Not wanting to poison him with my own bad habits further, I asked if he wanted to take a break or stop. He chose to stop. He chose joy. He decided to watch anime.

That is, before writing a song, working on a script for a TV show, and testing some digital illustrations for an animation he's considering doing. Sounds familiar.

I Could Have Been A Contender

I used to get mailers from Art Instruction School as a kid. I was low-key convinced I could be an illustrator. I'd listen to Go-Go tapes with my friends Justin and Jamal, and then I'd make "instruments" out of whatever I could find and tape them together. Then, too, I was convinced I could be a musician. I'd write poetry full of misspellings and incomplete thoughts and believe I could be a poet. As I grew, I authored long-form stories, wrote songs, did spoken word, and acted. With each creative endeavor, I am convinced that, above all else, I am an artist.

During each effort, I hit a wall and pivoted. With a Roomba for a brain, it's impressive I finish anything. I was exposed to kids who were better at it in middle school than me. I'd ask how they got so good, and none would cite classes or help from parents. Embarrassed and frustrated, I was convinced I could, in fact, not be an illustrator.

My World Studies and English teachers read a young adult novella I had written. They fawned over it. "You wrote this?" they'd ask, pleading with me to follow that path. I read and reread the story, taking issue with the characters' flaws and plot points. I grew obsessed with the main character and lost grip on reality. I rewrote the novella two more times. Still unhappy, I destroyed all copies, thinking for my sanity that maybe I should not be a writer.

By high school, I was a budding music snob and hip-hop enthusiast. With access to a studio, I produced a single song with two guys from school. After playing it for a handful of unimpressed classmates, I began to believe I, too, shouldn't be a musician.

Not long later, that bug would come back with a force. With improved skills and joined with equally passionate compatriots, we made measurably liked and appreciated music. Though not by enough people nor fast enough to warrant continued bleeding of time and resources into the endeavor. With debts, bills, and a family to provide for, I accepted that I couldn't afford to be a musician.

Each of those efforts, like this blog itself, was done with the ultimate intent of being seen. The creative efforts of my youth were sabotaged by a perceived need to be validated and, ideally, profitable.

Not Today Satan

One of my old producers called me last week. He told me to just make music and put it online anonymously. "I'll feel better," he said. I'm not quite there yet, but I am considering getting my equipment out of storage so my youngest can experiment.

I painted recently, and my wife and I were the only ones to validate it. And now the paintings sit happily on our bookshelf. I colored by myself in the kitchen and didn't bail on it when I fucked up Spongebob's mouth. I'm publishing this blog semi-regularly without posting about it on social media or measuring "engagement."

Though I'll share this one, I know enough artists who might enjoy it or, even better, suggest other ways and mediums to experiment with. 😉

It's all art. Mine and yours. Just make it. Live with it. And maybe, be better for it.