We are all frauds.

One day in 1989, like so many kids of my generation I sat down and attempted to draw Bart Simpson. A friend had given me an 8.5″x11″ xeroxed drawing of his face and I reasoned that it would be simple enough to recreate. I attempted to mimic each line of the image several times unsuccessfully. As I reluctantly picked up another sheet of copy paper I noticed that it was fairly thin and transparent. With a grin I laid the paper over the image and traced a perfect Bart. How impressed everyone would be when they saw I could draw Bart Simpson! The deception was short lived. My friends instantly suspected it was too precise to have been drawn freehand. My relationship to art at this time was, pretty much exclusively, skill related. I dreamed of being able to transform a blank page into the illusion of reality like magic. As I began to study art, I learned many techniques to help achieve this goal. The use of photo reference, measuring techniques, and even mimicking known artworks helped me create successful work, but inside I still felt like a fraud. Drawing from an example felt like “cheating”. I believed that “real” artists must create from thin air. In reality, most of drawing and painting is copying either from photography, direct observation, or memory. (Of course people don’t advertise this fact. Instead, we hold up our work as if it appeared effortlessly.) Among kids, the person who can copy cartoons well is considered the best artist. In high school, the student who can copy from photos well is considered the best artist and in art school the person who can copy from direct observation well is considered the best artist. It took many years before I realized that artistic skill is not just about HOW something is made but also WHAT is made. Techniques, tricks, and reference are just tools to achieve a vision. Great art is always a balance of craft and concept. I suspect that those who are experienced in art making know this. I also suspect that those who are just starting out feel like frauds.