I am not a naturally gifted artist; what talent I have is the result of my effort and a few good instructors, despite the work of a dreadful instructor.
I had the typical, uninspired art instruction in elementary and middle school (kindergarten through eighth grade - roughly 5 through 14 years old).
In high school, I encountered a dreadful teacher and was required to take at least two years with her. What made her dreadful was complicated. She openly picked favorites and wouldn’t “waste” her effort on anyone else. She embraced the crass notion that allowing students to flail around and then praising everything was good pedagogic technique. For a few months, she tried to follow a few elements of rigorous art instruction, like exercises around negative space, but then dropped that when it failed to make her feel good.
Worst of all, she taught those who were not her special favorites to hate the creative process, and to hate the process of improving skills. She would constantly pound students to “be creative” but when they didn’t have ideas, “just look at a book (of other people’s art)”, and somehow new ideas were just supposed to happen. If , in the absence of “new” ideas, a student wanted to copy something, that was treated as a moral failing.
She represented a case study in an art teacher who thought her modest professional success as an artist translated into the ability to effectively communicate technique and processes.
I spent a few years away from school.
Later, I returned to school to attend university. In the last semester, on a whim, I took a 100 level drawing class. Purely elective, purely for my own amusement, and to an extent, because I really did want to learn to draw and was finally getting past my revulsion with art teachers. The instructor was a fine arts graduate student, and while not an exceptional artist had a clear command of technique, and didn’t shy away from rigorous instructuction intended to develop basic drawing skills. He wasn’t a “natural” teacher, but worked hard to be a good teacher. As I look back, he may be one of the most underappreciated teachers I had in my time at university. Line, shading, light, negative space, perspective, contrast, proportions; he covered the essentials as well as could be hoped for in the time available. What he taught could have been the content for three semesters worth of practice.
But again, life intervened.
I thought about getting back to drawing, but there were many demands on my time, attention, and energy.
Years later, after a traumatic upheaval in my life, I decided to get back to drawing. I was at a loss for where to start, but wanted to learn to draw what I see, not just scribble and come up with some Postmodern, Abstract Expressionist blather. So I decided to start as I would any disciple, with the basics. In the absence of a good class that fit my unusual work schedule, I turned to books. "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards, "The Natural Way to Draw" by Kimon Nicolaides, and "Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters" by Robert Beverly Hale got me started. Later I added "Steal Like An Artist" by Austin Kleon, and "Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment" by Paper Monument to my education. Finally I braved the dark arts and mysteries presented in "50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship" by Salvador Dali, and was able to read it in its entirety without descending into gibbering madness.
Needless to say, reading isn’t enough. I practiced. A lot.
The most important thing is to start with the basics and work at them even when it isn’t fun any more. Just as juggling starts with a single ball, drawing is the basis for visual art, and drawing starts with the most basic shapes, like a single ball. And as juggling requires thousands of good repetitions to internalize the technique, so does drawing. Light, shadow, perspective, proportions, line, and shading are all there in that simple exercise of drawing a ball, and several thousand repetitions of the most basic drill will reward your effort.
If you want your art to speak to others, you have to create art that can communicate. To do that, you can’t go all Jackson Pollock or Rothko and insist that the audience has to figure out the deep, profound meaning. Start with forms like cubes and spheres (our single ball), and then work at putting together that knowledge and muscle learning to create more complex symbols, combination and intersections of symbols, and use these to create your statement.
Granted, my statements are pretty straight forward; places and situations that contribute to my happiness, and perhaps someone else's.
Here’s some heresy for Fine Arts academics in the United States; your art can have a positive or hopeful message. My biggest frustration with the intelligentsia of arts in America is their negativity and nihilism. That extended sulk that is encouraged by so many influential people in the art world is toxic. If the “important people” in art slobber over suffering, the message is that only suffering is valued and that it is better to rot in your suffering than heal and celebrate life. People who spout this nihilism are committing emotional abuse on a grand scale.
Encourage others to express joy. Express your own happiness or what will move you to happiness. Value healing.