On being a good student (or, again, why no kittens will die)


"K", 12" x 16", coloured pencil on toned grey paper. © Sarah Marie Lacy 2015.

“K”, 12″ x 16″, coloured pencil on toned grey paper. © Sarah Marie Lacy 2015.


I wrote a post a little while ago about making mistakes, self-criticism and why sucking at your art doesn’t say anything bad about you. I’ve been talking about these ideas with my father a lot, since he’s on his own creative journey with the bass guitar. After writing him a mini-novel over email, I realized I still had some thoughts about this.

Wherever you’re headed on your own personal creative mountain – whether it’s painting, bass guitar, or building tiny wooden dollhouses – there’s a trick to getting there, and it’s learning how to be a good student.

Over my years of training, I met a lot of other students. There was one person in particular that I wrote the first post for. They will never see it and probably wouldn’t have gotten it anyways.

This person was so caught up in feeling bad about their work that they couldn’t improve. They just used my artwork to beat themselves up, even though they’d been there 3 weeks and I’d been there 18 months.

It was tragic.

The irony of it all was that his own self-flagellation was what got in the way of his progress.

That’s not to say you’ll never want to pitch your painting out the window.

It’s okay to feel frustrated and want to throw your paintbrush/guitar/bass/trumpet/pencil at the wall (or out the window). Learning is frustrating. It’s hard and it’s slower than we want it to be, and we have these grand visions in our head and goddammit if we just can’t accomplish them yet. We are impatient. We are on a mission. We have passion for what it is that we’re trying to create.

The fact of it is – we care. We care deeply. And we really, really, really want this thing we’re creating to look/be goddamn amazing.

And I say: GOOD. The world needs more caring. The world needs more people who give a damn. You are already winning by making instead of just consuming, by using your hands instead of just scrolling endlessly on Facebook. You are engaged, you are thriving, you are living.

So: you’re frustrated. That is so freaking normal.

I think we poison ourselves when we turn that frustration inwards and direct it at our own self-worth.

I feel frustrated all of the time and am always yelling at paintings and drawings and telling them they suck. I stomp away, throwing my hands in the air (you’d think I’m Italian I’m such a hand talker). I flop down on the bed and whine to my husband about how it all sucks and the painting is misbehaving and I just wanna give up and eat cookies.

It’s actually kind of cathartic, because then I let it go. I’ve released the emotion. I’m usually laughing/yelling/whining all at the same time.

The painting can suck without me sucking as a person. I either fix it or trash it or turn it into something else.

A teacher used to say to me, “Geez, Sarah, if you could just stop sucking, this painting would be so much better.” And then we’d laugh and fix it.

And it was funny because of course I sucked. I was a student. My whole job numero uno was to suck and figure out how to fix it.

We get all twisted about when we’re learning something because we think our job is to be awesome. We think we need to get the A+ immediately. That the goal is to get the A.

It’s not. It’s to suck and then figure out how to stop sucking.

And when you come at it from that perspective, then as long as you’re sucking and figuring out why, then you’re doing great. You get the cookie, and all the gold stars you want. You get to sleep at night and not feel shitty about yourself.

And then you get to laugh and have fun and then you’re learning faster, and sucking less more quickly. Because brains with positive reinforcement absorb information better than brains getting negative reinforcement.

All of this great long rambling thing is to say: if you’re frustrated and you think your creative thing sucks, good job! You care, you’re trying and you’re on the right path.

Rock on, my friend. Rock on.