TERE is a bondage worse, far worse, to bear
Than his who breathes, by roof, and floor, and wall,
Pent in, a Tyrant’s solitary Thrall:
‘Tis his who walks about in the open air,
One of a Nation who, henceforth, must wear
Their fetters in their souls. For who could be,
Who, even the best, in such condition, free
From self-reproach, reproach that he must share
With Human-nature? Never be it ours
To see the sun how brightly it will shine, 10
And know that noble feelings, manly powers,
Instead of gathering strength, must droop and pine;
And earth with all her pleasant fruits and flowers
Fade, and participate in man’s decline.
When an individual allows themselves to be constrained by mental barriers and self doubt, they become their own greatest adversary, and consequently become engulfed by the shroud of their own despair and are unable to strive for greatness.
Self pity and consistent disrespect towards oneself. That was something far far worse than any drug I thought could exist. To be trapped in your own mind must be a world worse than hell; to have all the freedom in the world, yet to have no such freedom within yourself, is the highest form to torture; the kind tantalus is eternally damned to. Unfortunately I was one of those individuals who didn’t realize this, and it nearly destroyed me had I not been saved. Up until what was a few days ago I had been one of those individuals who were so low on self-confidence that the thought of even making yourself known was frightening.
I’m an artist. At the least I try to be, since I was a boy I had been drawing, my very first work was me drawing my family on the wall. Since then it’s been me drawing dinosaurs and racecars in my notebooks throughout elementary school, pages and pages filled with hollow pencil sketches of two dimensional cars and gigantic lizards. Then I upgraded to dragons, yes, I had gotten my first acrylic paint set that came with a dragon themed guidebook. My paintings began with more paint in the space around me than the actual canvas, though the mess was quite considerable and a headache to my mother it was worth seeing my first work on something that was not lined paper. Some time later I had an art teacher come visit my school for one day and teach my class hot to draw river banks and perspective art. Never had there been a day where I had been so interested or invested in what someone had been telling me.
Being only self-taught till this point my artistic skills were no impressive feat, my imagination was limited until it had been expanded by the many drills and procedures I had to go through I saw a steady improvement; I was born with talent for painting, yet now I was beginning to develop skill and knowledge. I started thinking practically about my work, what colours should go here and there how the shading and texture played into each other. Days and days of training and I felt myself grow rapidly, that there was possibility that i could become something close to Picasso or Da Vinci.
After extensive skill building, it was finally time to put everything we’ve learned to the test. Our first task was to paint the vase of flowers that had been placed at the center of the room. Naturally I had taken the easel closest to the vase in order to get the best view of the object I was about to recreate on my canvas. Just by looking at the vase I had been inspired, and I had painted exactly what impact the vase had left on me. With every stroke of the brush I had put all my heart and soul into it, it meant more to me than just a vase with flowers in it. It was a way of life now.
Three hours past and the moment of truth was upon me, as my instructor had inspected the works of his other pupils he was impressed praising those who had shown exemplary work; it was just only a matter of time till he made his way to me and praised my efforts. I had put my heart into this work. At this point, I must say that the imagination of an artist sometimes leaves many of us to believe in a sense of blind optimism, as the reaction my teacher had towards my piece was totally different from what my mind had pictured. When he had seen mine, or rather noticed it, it was him turning his head, then it was him squinting and walking towards it. He walked to the back of the room to pick up a thick paintbrush and submerged it in a can of black paint, afterwards he made his way towards my painting, paused to look at it and then painted a big black ‘X’ across the canvas. My heart sank. He turned to me. Suddenly I shrank to the size of an ant with mortal fear. And then came the scolding of my life, that I had done this wrong and learned absolutely nothing under his teachings.
“Have I taught you nothing! What do you call this, this is not a vase, I had picked this one specifically so amauture doodlers such as you would find it easy, yet I was wrong. You give a bad name to artists do you understand! next time I want to see the object perfectly transferred onto the canvas, and do not bother adding whatever other nonsense you did in this one. Had I not corrected you now you would have made an embarrassment of yourself in the future, you should be thanking me. Next time only paint what you see.”
“I’m sorry sir, I understand.” I dared not meet his gaze, I felt that he would vaporize me.
He already drew a big black ‘X’ all over my effort. I took note of his words, they have never left me since. Next time paint only what you see. I took my leave and took my painting with me. He had dipped the brush in so much black paint that it had begun to drip down the canvas, my vase. I sat outside the class and cried. Was I just that useless? With all my effort I had failed to impress my teacher, how well could I possibly fair against the rest of the world. I had begun to think that my dream of becoming an artist had started distancing itself from me.
I thought of throwing away the painting, it was useless wasn’t it? I thought of discarding so I wouldn’t have to look back at failure back again, getting rid of it now would mean that I;m ready to move on and improve. However something inside of me screamed not to let it go and to keep it, I thought that it was because it would remind me never to create something like that again. I became so embarrassed by the painting that I had decided to go back the next day and paint over it. In the big black ‘X’ That my teacher had painted, I had decided to continue to paint the vase, only in hues of red, I had thought the contrast of red and green would have made him proud, that I had made use of the canvas rather than thrown it away. The black ‘X’ had turned into a red ‘X’ with designs of flowers that I thought looked like poppies, anemones, and marigolds. Despite all my intent to please him, he remained unsatisfied, scolded me once more, and broke the canvas on his knee along with my hopes dreams.
This process had been repeated many times; I’d walk into the class, personality drained, paint a painting that was already predetermined to have a Black X all over it. Day in and day out I’d leave with either a broken canvas or one with an X over it. Soon they lined up my bedroom. Black crosses telling me that my attempts at making myself amount to anything in life would end up as a black Cross or broken into two pieces. After a while I had let go of all my pride, stopped caring and stopped showing up to the art class. It would have made no difference, obviously I had not been learning the right thing and showed a great inability to improve beyond my failures. My spot in the class was better left to another aspiring artist who could show the potential to improve and succeed. I had considered other careers and passions in my life, there was always science and cooking, crafting and music. Though I wasn’t gifted in any of them I thought that if I could prove sufficient in one of those things I could forget about painting. If I had convinced myself that I was not good enough to be an artist I could focus on the other things in my life that I thought I could trick myself into liking.
I had confided a close friend about the matter. She had known that I had always wanted to be an artist and she always believed that I would become one someday. I thought that talking to her would clear my mind as to whether or not I should drop painting; why pursue something you’ve been proven to be a failure in?
Her response had been to slap me on the spot.
“Why do their words have to mean so much to you? If that’s what you believe you should do then go and do it. You’ve praised yourself for half your life thinking that you were entitled to artistry, that you could be the next Picasso, and now you sulk. Nothing means anything until you let it. The fact that you kept on painting over and over on the same canvas, trying to improve each one has not gone unnoticed, all of those who have see it are very much impressed. Not by your skill, no certainly not skill. In your art you show creativity, imagination and versatility. You have talent and skill and you chose not to hone your abilities because of something one person had said. You can run if you feel you have to, and leave everything you loved in that if you want to, nobody will stop you or fault you, but why do is words have to mean so much to you when they mean nothing to anyone else. By quitting you chose to fall, while falling is easy, you always go down, and never show the incentive to get back up.”
Going home that night I had a thought. I remembered the very first painting in his class I had completed, how he drew the first black X over it and I had painted over it. I searched my bedroom for it, and had found it buried behind other paintings. That day when I had chosen not to discard the painting, the reason now his me like a bus. I had personally thought it was beautiful, even now when it was broken and had a hole in the center of it, it still had some fragment of beauty from the very first stroke of the brush I had graced it with. I did not bother fixing it, it was what it was and i loved it that way, I had begun arranging the rest of the paintings with ‘X’s and holes around the first one. Once again uncovered my art supplies and begun my craft. Over every single black X and canvas I had begun to create my masterpiece. The brush went over the corners and edges, each stroke of paint entering a new canvas; a new world until it was all connected together in colour and strokes.
I did not sleep that night. I had taken all the paintings back to the art studio, found myself and ladder and begun my work. One final mural. Climbing up and down, arranging and fixing into position my masterpiece. The entire process had taken five hours but I felt as if the life in me had been restored and I was capable of continuing this for eternity. Dawn was upon me. One by one the passers by on the street walked past the mural looking, some had made their way to it and started taking pictures, I just sat there, a boy next to a masterpiece that was larger than life. I had never felt so in my element before but at the same time I felt humbled. Soon the few observers had become a crowd. Then finally My teacher pulled up on the driveway. Rather taken back by the crowd of people around the studio, my assumptions as to what he thought rested on the fancy that these individuals may have come to see his artwork and it was his big break. Making his was through the crowd he saw the tired boy covered in paint, sitting under the many canvasses he had broken and painted Black Xs over.