Art Anxiety: My Personal Experience

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An abstract drawing I have created in an art class. I used colored pencil and ebony pencil.

Have you ever seen--or been--a student poring over a paper afraid to make a mark with that brush or pencil out of fear that they---or you---will end up doing it wrong? I am one of those students.

I enrolled in a beginning art class thinking the experience would be therapeutic. It ended up being the opposite. It seemed that I always had to worry: Did I do the shading right? Did I use enough of this color? Is the composition okay? Is it good enough? Is it good enough? Is it good enough? It seemed that the answer was always "No." Eventually, I began to hate the class. I was trapped at an impasse: Either I could scribble down some subpar work and turn that in or I could work myself to death obsessing over one project worrying about every little detail and ending up not turning it in because it was not good enough.

Why do some art teachers push for art to be recognized as a core academic subject, yet do not recognize that it causes some students great difficulty and anxiety? I came to dread the subject in a similar way to how I dread anything to do with math. To make matters worse, the people who share a table with me are extremely skilled and, seeing what they can create, I end up comparing myself to them. Knowing that I can never match their level of artistic talent, I feel like Tantalus reaching for food and water, but being able to obtain neither one.

All other experiences I have had with the fine arts have been positive; it was just this class that had a negative impact on how I view the arts. Since arts subjects have always been close to my heart, I found myself stuck in a state of bewilderment at my own sentiments. Ever since I've wasted countless lunches and break periods on something I never really cared about in the first place,  I've just decided to do things to the best of my ability and accept the percentages that come my way.

I wrote down this experience of mine in the hope that I can find others who feel or have felt the same way and help others acquire an understanding of this "art anxiety". I want to turn "How stupid do you have to be to fail art?" into "Me too" and "I can see why it's difficult." As art gains as a core academic subject, feelings of anxiety and worthless brought on by the subject should also gain recognition as issues that have the potential to adversely affect student's performance and wellbeing. 


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