You’re Not Good Enough to Do Art Said Mr Yates

Seminal, Colour pencils on paper, A5

You’re not good enough to do art at ‘O’ level.

Mr Yates, art teacher at Walton Girls’ High School, 1983

I’ve often wondered why I accepted Mr Yates’ statement as Truth when I was thirteen. I immediately stopped drawing and began a journal instead. I had a flash of insight yesterday whilst washing my hair (of all things): he’d stated I wasn’t good enough at identity level. “You’re not good enough.” It was like a magic spell. I believed him. I stopped.

But why did I believe him? “You’re not good enough,” went straight to the beliefs I’d formed during childhood trauma and nestled amongst them, ready to raise its scaly neck and peck at me whenever art appeared on the horizon. It didn’t limit itself to art – it took any opportunity it could to pick and peck, squawking, “get down! Stay small! Stay safe! Don’t risk it!”

Many years later, when I studied Moving Image at art school, I kept talking about imposter syndrome. The other students didn’t share it. My tutor couldn’t see herself in my work about not feeling like an artist. No-one got it. Neither did I. I’d done all this work on releasing blocks when I did the Artist’s Way before I even got to art school. I thought I’d released Mr Yates’ limiting belief. But he was still there, saying, “you’re not good enough.”

It’s such a pernicious thing to say. It’s vague and gives no indication of how I could change my self to be good enough. What could he have meant? Did he mean he didn’t like how I brought my subjectivity into art? He didn’t like that I’d drawn the word “shit” in my still life homework. I didn’t like drawing still lifes.

Maybe he meant that to be good at art you needed to be able to produce photograph-like drawings of figurative reality. That’s not true. Jackson Pollock couldn’t do that. Mondrian could but chose to focus on abstract after years of conforming to ‘good’. So yeah, I’ll take your “not good enough”, Mr Yates, because I don’t want to be that kind of good. To conform to your idea of good is like dying to myself.

The image above is called Seminal. I drew it in 2017, whilst experimenting with colour pencils. I enjoyed the delicate blending. When I look at it I feel something I don’t have words for. I particularly enjoy the darkness around the shapes that look like light bulbs. You can buy this drawing framed, if you would like to.

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