The Ascending Spiral Path of the Artistic Learning Journey

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During the first live video call of the current session of my Wild Wonder eCourse, we had a fascinating discussion. A participant named Tara brought up a point that she had been discussing with another artist we know, Nikki, about the distinction between art techniques, one’s own art style, and one’s own voice. Essentially, it's a learning curve, where you need to learn the techniques first, and then apply them many, many times and your style begins to emerge. And then, from within that, your distinct voice - your truth - can be expressed through your art. And every time you set out to learn a new technique, you must go through that progression of learning until you can really express your own voice through your unique style. 

When I consider these distinctions, I like to imagine that the learning curve is shaped like an ascending spiral path, (like a corkscrew), similar to stairs that you may have climbed in a lighthouse. You are traveling forward, one foot directly in front of the other, and yet because the path is circular and spiraling, you are rising to a new level with each step. As you climb, you return to the same view again and again, but with a new perspective from your higher vantage point as you climb.  If you imagine this spiral staircase as the learning curve that you experience while taking art classes, you are continually revisiting three distinct areas as you climb: learning art techniques, discovering and refining your style, and expressing your voice.

Learning art techniques is fundamental to practicing art: you need to learn how to put paint onto the canvas if you are going to be a painter. It’s also something that isn’t “one and done;” we continually add to our skills. We practice old skills and learn new ones. Just as we ascend the lighthouse's circular path and revisit the view of the ocean again and again, we see different angles from each new level—we have a new perspective. We are still learning, but we’ve leveled up!

Once we learn techniques, they must be put into practice again and again. After a time, we notice that we hold a brush and put paint onto a canvas in a way that is a bit unique. We are noticing and developing our art style.

We continue along the path, practicing our art, using our style to put techniques into action. And we find that we have something we want to say, or we want to express our love of a certain subject matter, or color—something of our essence bursts forth through our work. It is our voice! It took all the traveling up the path to get to this point, but it was worth it. 

And yet the path doesn’t end there: we keep walking, onward towards the technique area again to refine or pick up new skills, which we will then practice and incorporate into our style, and then use to express our voice.  All artists are walking on these spirals, growing, learning, and trying new things. Learning anything in life is like this.  Enjoy your journey. When you feel frustrated at any point, think of yourself walking on that spiral. It’s not a race (there is no finish line). When you feel like you're back at the beginning all over again, remember the ascending spiral and trust that you're actually a level higher than you were the last time you learned that lesson. Acknowledge yourself for doing the work to earn that new perspective, and enjoy the view!

Pssst - Wanna watch Summer and I talk about the learning curve in video format? Click below to watch!

Annamieka Davidson