I used to view art as a golden ticket exclusive only to the remarkable and exceptional. In my head, the few deserving people who partake in it are the very definition of “greatness” bottled into the skin. This notion used to intimidate me as a child, but after learning and unlearning, I finally saw art for what it truly is.
I am not what society calls “gifted,” but for years, I have cast my eyes far and wide in search of a creative undertaking that I can actually be good at. For years, I strove to be deserving by being extraordinary. Only after achieving this, I thought, could I finally take down the impenetrable fortress that makes it hard for untalented people like me to get in. Ironically, my quest for greatness led me to an equally rewarding path that ultimately changed how I view art.
At the height of the pandemic, when almost everyone was battling against existential crisis and imposter syndrome, I realized getting good grades won’t cut it anymore. For someone whose head was always burrowed into the pages of her lab reports, I wanted to be a part of something larger than life. Something that would fill the void of my existence and pump up my already deflated self-confidence.
In my pursuit of greatness outside the confines of my academics, I decided to give art another go. After all, being stuck inside the house gifted me plenty of time to indulge in new hobbies. So, between answering my problem sets in calculus and doing my writeups in chemistry, I would surf the internet looking for new art-related leisure activities that were all within my means.
I chose to begin my artistic pilgrimage by learning how to play a string instrument. It was a passion project I have endeavored into because of my overwhelming love for singing and music. Despite not knowing a single chord, I talked my sister into buying me a ukulele, hoping to catch on quickly after a series of tutorials. Thanks to some content creators on YouTube, I was able to learn how to play basic songs, such as “Mirrorball” and “The 1” from Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” album.
Aside from learning the ukulele, I also got into digital painting. I invested in an electronic tablet a year ago because I wanted to go paperless in my note-taking. Conveniently, I was introduced to a raster graphics editor called Procreate, which, according to my digital artist friends, is a beginner-friendly art platform with simple and intuitive features for newbies like me. True enough, after days of patiently navigating through the said application, I got the hang of it and eventually started to make paintings and illustrations.
I also did not pass up the opportunity to embark on creative writing. With the uncertainty brought by the pandemic as my muse, I began writing flash fiction, personal essays, and poems, in need of an outlet to disembogue all my frustrations. In fact, I even made dummy blog accounts on Tumblr and WordPress just to actualize the entire “writer” persona that I wanted to achieve.
While it is true that “greatness” was the only goal at the back of my mind when I committed myself to do these artistic hobbies, along the way, I have begun to appreciate art, not for the clout that it brings, but for the overall aesthetic and welcoming experience that it made me feel. Despite always circling back to creating seemingly average and unexceptional works, I was able to find gratification in dipping my toes into unfamiliar waters and actually learning something after every splash.
That’s why I made it a point to bask in the surprising comfort of getting chained to the rhythm behind the sloppy strums and sharp notes. Behind the crooked lines and uncomplimentary colors, I still managed to revel in the sight of my wild and often discombobulated imagination becoming apparent. Behind the cliché plots and hackneyed lines, I still found delight in the assemblage of the words that I carefully strung together to communicate a story.
Yes, I may not be what society calls “gifted,” but for the first time ever, I stopped casting my eyes far and wide in search of artistic greatness. For the first time ever, I learned to cradle art in my arms and be unapologetic about it because if there’s one thing I learned from my brief artistic pilgrimage, it’s this: greatness is not the end-all-be-all of an artist’s life. Sometimes, there is surprising merit in simply trying. There is merit in pulling yourself out of bed to partake in an experience that elevates you and liberates your spirit. There is merit in treading an unexplored path and committing every fiber of your being to knowing it. But, more importantly, there is merit in overcoming your self-doubts and allowing yourself to flourish by making mistakes. I just genuinely wish I realized this sooner rather than later.
Now, when I think of art, I think of fulfillment. The kind is not necessarily a corollary to greatness but a product of consistent patience, dedication, and steadfast resolve to do something meaningful and productive.
Joyce B. Chavez, 19, is a chemical engineering student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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