When I was seventeen years old, we did life drawing as part of our A-Level Art course. Once the giggles had subsided, I found it a fascinating challenge. To capture the form of human life in two dimensions is difficult. I practised and learned new drawing skills, but when it came to the final coursework element I decided I wanted to push myself as far as I could, to create my vision of the human form in 3D.
I was seventeen. I didn’t know much about art other than what I’d seen in books and galleries, but I knew enough to know that I loved to create. I loved to do things differently. So while the others in my class refined their pencil drawings, I went out and tracked down two 8ft sheets of clear perspex and some wooden lats.
I used blue paint to paint the outline of the sitting body of the man we’d been studying onto one piece of the perspex. Next, I grasped at some clay and began to model the muscle and tissues on top. I mixed my colours with sand to give texture to the skin and coated PVA glue with powder paint to add a glaze to the sinews of the body. When I was done, I sandwiched the second sheet of perspex on top and nailed the lats to the sides of my work so that it would stand freely.
I’d created a ‘slice of humanity’. It was so tall, and you could see the human body through it from all angles, like a bizarrely fashioned piece of stained glass. I loved it. It was so completely different from anything I’d ever done, or that anyone else in the group had done. I was so proud of my work, and it really felt like ‘my’ art…and then…
I got laughed at.
They all laughed at it.
At seventeen years old, to have your efforts mocked not only by your fellow students but also by the teachers, is rough. I remember the next afternoon I came into the art room and my sketchbook had been sellotaped to the desk with a sign on it ‘for its own protection’. The staff didn’t bother to help me unstick it.
It’s one of the reasons that I didn’t follow art any further than that A-Level course. Even though it was my passion, and something that made me feel so happy and creative. It took me thirteen years to revisit my first love. Thirteen years of doing other stuff that has never lit my fire in quite the same way.
The reason I’m writing this? Today, I came across this video. I’m in no way saying that my work is on this kind of scale, far from it — but when I watched this, I felt something that is so important to people like me. People who have created a business out of nothing but their own passion for something they love to do. I felt it.
This guy (Dustin Yellin) does today, what seventeen year old me was trying to do all those years ago. He’s here, giving a TED talk about it, and just wow. Please watch it, he does something magical.
I suppose the point of this article is this:
- Follow your passions. They’re who you really are.
- Don’t be knocked by those who live to knock you. They’ll get theirs (one of mine now drives a local supermarket delivery van, having never left our hometown and still lives alone with his parents at age 33).
I still have my ‘slice of humanity’. It reminds me of what I’m truly capable of. Art is what you make it — and to all those who laughed?
Well, I guess it sucks to be you.