A Story about our strengths and weaknesses.
“Oh my holy heck, you can draw? I wish I could draw. My brother (or mother or aunt) can draw but I didn’t get that gene.”
If you are an artist you’ve definitely heard something like this before. I can’t even tell you how many times people have said similar things to me. (Although, I admit they might not have said “holy heck”). Recently I’ve started to think that the people saying things like this don’t completely understand what they might be giving up to have the artistic talent they wish for.
The Struggles of an Artist
When I was in 4th grade we did a spelling bee. I thought this was going to be fun but I remember it as one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. The spelling bee was held in the school library which had a sunken area in the center where all the kids could sit on stairs that were also seats. It was a small carpeted amphitheater.
So there I was packed onto hard carpeted stair/seats with, who knows, maybe 80 other fourth graders. This is where we watched the spelling bee and waited for our turn to go up and spell something in front of everyone. I had practiced and I was hopeful I was going to do a good job.
When it was my turn I made my way to the bottom of the amphitheater with a small group of kids, and we all had the chance to spell a word. I got “container”.
I took a breath. “Container. C o n t i a n e r”
“I’m sorry that’s incorrect.”
I was disappointed in myself as I started to make my way back to my seat as multiple kids from my class called out to me. “It’s A-I Manelle, A-I!”
I was mortified. It felt like I had made a mistake that no one else would have made. They all knew how to spell container and I didn’t.
I slumped back to my seat with a bright red face. It was definitely one of those moments where I wanted to be anywhere else.
And that wasn’t the last time my poor spelling abilities made me feel inadequate. I got kicked out in the first round of my sixth-grade spelling bee too. And we aren’t even going to talk about the time in second grade when my teacher made me feel dumb because I couldn’t remember how to spell “was”. (Just in case you were wondering that is not a word you can “sound out”.)
On the bright side, I do remember how to spell container now.
Is it true that artists can’t spell?
Now I’m not saying that all artists can’t spell, but well, most of us can’t, and I know many artists who are dyslexic.
When I was in college I overheard one of my art professors talking about how he remembers which hand is his right, and which is his left, —his right hand was the one he eats with— and I felt a sense of belonging. Up to that point, I thought I was one of the few crazy people who couldn’t seem to remember which hand was which.
Being around lots of artists over the years has helped me realize that while many of us excel at interpreting shapes and colors and emotions we also tend to struggle with things that other people find easy. And it got me thinking that maybe our brains develop this way on purpose. We have to give certain things up to excel at other things. I’m not a brain scientist this is just something I’ve observed.
Remember you have something that others don’t.
It’s now time to quote the bible. In 1 Corinthians 12:17, it says: “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” It’s saying different parts of the body provide different functions, just like people do.
The thing is, we need people to be proofreaders, just as much as we need big-picture storytellers. We need people who can look at the world and turn it into art just as we need people who can look at drawings and turn them into bridges, or buildings.
Next time you are envious of another person’s strengths think about what you would have to give up to have the same strengths as them. I wouldn’t give up my drawing ability to be able to spell better. Maybe you’ll realize who you are, and how your brain works is good enough.