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  • Writer's pictureAtomicRakshasi

Why to Art Even When You Can't

a drawing of a mask and tentacles
Something Glitched

There was a time when I still bothered complaining about people with no imagination, the kind that are ready to throw a damper on an idea because they can’t visualize it, or because they’ve never come across that sort of thing before, or they just see no point to it.

The ultimate assessment of the value of any work in question was: Will anyone buy this sort of thing? Can you make a living off of it? A question like that posed to a ten-year-old isn’t the best encouragement, or for that matter, to a twenty-year-old.

But it happens all the time, with aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, classmates or your local busybody. Of course, that’s no reason not to keep creating, but after the 100th “weyulll, what’s the points of the thing?” you really begin to doubt yourself.

These people serve a purpose, someone once told me wisely. They’re the accountants and IT types and see value in facts and numbers—-quantifiable stuff that runs the world, but I tell ya, they sure have a good time stamping out creativity with the age-old creativity killers: what’s the point? What’s it worth? Will anybody buy it? This complaint comes from someone who was allowed to enter the arts, albeit by parents who were often hypercritical and felt that unless you’ve produced something equivalent to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it isn’t worth the effort.


When I was ten and energetic I ate, slept and dreamt art (after I had finished my homework and studied). I had that inborn urge to display my art to whoever would appreciate it. After I had finished two years of work, I compiled my art into a fat folder and told my mom that I would go show it to the school principal.

“Um, why?” she asked, “What do you want him to do with it?”

Why indeed? What was the point? That question made me question my entire life’s purpose. I still feel stupid about it.

There’s this thing about parents, especially middle-class ones, they’re always secretly hoping at least one of their kids will come out of the womb a prodigy. Otherwise, don't bother trying. At that point, art was allowed only as an indulgence, a hobby that might help you get into a good school or college. Something that might aid you in the marriage market, not something you dedicate your life to. Still, there was some encouragement in junior school. I still remember my moment of pride when my fifth-grade science teacher accused me of getting my parent’s help to draw my diagrams. The interrogation lasted fifteen minutes in front of the entire class. I became the kind of teacher’s pet that a teacher picks on just to show that she’s not biased against the other students. My other ten-year-old friends decided that I was getting ‘too proud’ and decided to pull me down a peg or two (displaying one’s work was considered showing off). This still happens every once in a while when I pull out my sketchbook in public and try to draw something. Apparently, artists are also pretentious snobs.

My parents were still light years ahead of other parents. Schoolkids were so creatively starved back then that if you handed them a set of colour pencils they’d usually wait for instructions on what to draw and then draw something generic but appropriate. I was taken to art exhibitions and dance performances. We had a few art books lying around, and strains of classical music filled the air every Sunday, so I knew there were things I could do with my life besides medicine or engineering.

For the other creative kids, the stories didn’t go so well. One friend of mine was so industrious with her free time that she built an entire doll house out of scrap in the loft: furniture intricately fashioned out of discarded bulb parts, bottle caps, hair pins, and stuff that wouldn’t be missed. Every moment spent with her was magical because we were always making things. Her parents forced her to try for medicine, which she had no aptitude for and she landed up working a job at a take-out diner. After a few years, she rose to manager. The question of applying her creativity never once arose and the complete waste of potential made me mad.

The second classmate from high school was moulded into pursuing a modelling career that didn’t end well, even though she had the intelligence and inherent creativity to gain entrance into any design or art college of her choice.

Another kid in my college told me how he had blackmailed his parents with suicide, threatening to slash his wrists if they didn’t pay his college fees. He opened his own animation company and that’s the only story I know of that ended well.

The wet-blanketing will get worse and more complicated when you join college. I studied beside people who escaped the painful aspects of visual education by sidling around it, almost always the artsy-fartsy kind, allergic to skill development of any sort but filled with knowledge and egotism that I greatly admired (because I had zero) and conversely the master craftsmen and the Disney-lovers who hated them and vice versa. Then there were the people who did well out of sheer dedication, even if they had zero skills or exposure to begin with.


Assessing the value of design is more abstract than grades or marks. Navigating this labyrinth of opinions and fiery judgments required a complex knowledge of human behaviour: let’s just say kissing ass, presenting your work in a stream of well-chosen words, and dealing with up to forty-five minutes of trolling with good-natured wit. For someone who could barely articulate a full sentence, this was extremely difficult. All this is supposed to be training for the real world, but with me, it did the opposite. The creative aptitude of each person does not directly correlate with success in art or design, in your college or your career.

There is such a thing as orthodoxy, even in the creative fields, especially if you have the kind of faculty that’s been around for more than a decade (in my case, three decades) and stagnated. They’re insecure and deliberately vague, cling to ancient ideals/schools of thought and are rarely sincere. They expect your work to look a certain way, and their feedback can be self-centred. They love ass-kissers and obedient conformists. Yes, there are those in every field. The good teachers are few and far between, sharing knowledge that you could actually apply because they’re in touch with the market.

Thankfully I was taught by at least a few of those.

Cut to the present day. I’m at a handicrafts market with a certain female relative and she asks why I’m picking up assorted ceramic cups and bowls. I explain that it’s for props when I shoot my sketchbook pages.

“What’s the point of a sketchbook? Does anyone buy it?”

I’ve got that question so many times, sometimes from the same person. I made a mental note to avoid talking about work with my relatives yet again. Yes, I’m constantly surrounded by party poopers, people who can’t fathom the point of my profession. If you’re young that repetitive shit can get you down.

To give real-life examples of how often this happens, Amrita-Sher Gill’s parents thought her ‘odious’, although they supported her art education, because of her affairs. Her mom had an open hostility towards her and her husband because she did not marry advantageously, instead choosing a partner who granted her creative, social and sexual freedom. If she had married someone of her parent’s choice, her art career would probably have been cut even shorter. 


Van Gogh suffered from depression and wasn’t particularly appreciated by the art collectors of his time.


Artemisia Gentileschi was given an art education only because she was part of a family of artists, and her story is tragic yet fairly predictable for a young woman who ventured into a male-dominated field. 

Margaret Keane had her work falsely attributed to her husband for years, who forced her to paint for him and kept all the money from her art. She inspired a lot of pop-surrealists of today but her work is still considered kitsch, which is a synonym for ‘inferior’.


Maud Lewis was poor and arthritic and her husband was often abusive.


So don’t let people influence you so far into losing your originality. If you’re lost, build a better sense of self. Become better at analysing feedback, because good feedback is precious (don’t be afraid to question it, though). Take up more challenges as you go along. It’s easy to stagnate if you find a market for your work, so see how far you can stretch yourself. Take comfort in the history of artists who have suffered for their art—-you live in 2024 when everything is possible.

And no, suffering is not a prerequisite to creativity.

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