What’s Your Metaphor?


I grew up in a very athletic family.

My dad was a football coach for 50 years, my mom golfed, my brother always played 3 sports, and my younger sister and I were swimmers when we were young, and then I played basketball in high school.

Sports was the dominant theme in my house growing up. And we were pretty much always going to practice in some way, shape, or form.

In truth, I kind of wish sports was a little less central to my childhood than it was, but I did get a lot out of it.

The best things I got out of it were:

  • experiencing the benefit of practicing even when I didn’t feel like it;
  • experiencing the reality of doing something hard and having it get easier;
  • finding out that my best was a moving target–because every time you do your best, you have a new best;
  • living through the discomfort of being at my edge and getting to the other side–pushing myself farther than I thought I could–because a coach demanded that we do that.

Being bossed by a coach to your limit may sound sort of awful, but really, those experiences have carried me through many everyday challenges in my adulthood.

I could always suck it up and meet hard deadlines at work because I had to do that all the time as a kid–I knew it would end, I knew I could do it, and I knew I just had to keep my head down and finish.

And it helps me with my artmaking. Because I don’t just believe certain truisms about process, I know them. For instance, I know that practice will improve me.

I know that I’ve been very, very bad at games or techniques that I wanted to do, and I got better by trying and practicing.

And this trying and practicing by playing team sports is usually a public sort of struggle–you can fall on your face in the gym in front of all your classmates, and life goes on.

And more importantly, you go out the next day and do it again. You experience, first hand, the integrity of trying, failing, and coming back for more. The season isn’t over just because you feel disappointed.

And then you find out that disappointment is temporary. (This is huge.)

And as an adult, it helps me work out at the gym. I know the difference between good pain and uh-oh-I-better-stop pain. I know how to mix it up, how to set mini-goals to relieve the boredom, and how to push myself to get the results I want.

I also know that crappy workouts are an unavoidable part of having great workouts.

And I know if I stop for a while altogether, well, I have to get back in shape and I might be uncomfortable as I do that.

So, strange as it might sound, sports is actually a metaphor for my art-making.

My sports metaphor helps me keep trying when I think I suck.

It reminds me that a few minutes is better than no minutes.

It helps me be patient with my progress on this project or that.

And the truths that I laid out in the list above–knowing my best is a moving target for instance–is a physical, visceral knowledge for me. I don’t know it intellectually, I know it in my body.

So that’s me.

What about you?

What experiences or challenges in your life can you draw on to support yourself and your artistic goals and desires?

What’s your metaphor?

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  1. Debera Dowell says:

    I’m not sure I have a specific metaphor from something like sports, however my inner drive when I am challenged with anything enduring comes from a place where I have overcome something I didn’t know I could, for instance when I began working in the hair stylist industry I was really in love with the whole process of creating a new look for someone, there were many areas that I was naturally comfortable with right away, however haircolor was a huge challenge for me, I was terrified, mostly because I really didn’t understand color theory at first on top of the fear of really making someone look bad and not knowing how to have consistent results. I kept trying to understand it and asked for lots of help to avoid disasters, but it wasn’t until I finally found a great teacher in my salon supervisor who found the key that unlocked it all for me, now I am a really good colorist and it is one of my favorite parts of my job. I have used that experience to overcome a ton of challenges. one of the hardest challenges I have experienced since that time was overcoming alcoholism, and funny as it may sound I even used it then, to remember when something seemed impossible and understand that everything gets better with practice. I understand that I am the only person who can be who I am, and do what I am suppose to do, so it has become really freeing to know that the art I am creating today is often better than what has come before it and my best is in the right now just for today. I am grateful for the teachers I have found along the way especially those that have shown me that mistakes are part of the big plan and no mistake is too big to grow and go on to a new place from, with that in mind when I made a huge mess of a commission piece I was working on the other day, I spent a couple hours mourning my loss after which I plastered the now dead canvas with warm rich color and a splash of aqua and white, now it has new life as well do I. awesome! no haunting of ugly art, just pull out a new canvas and try again.
    ta ta for now

  2. Lunar Hine says:

    Most of what I’ve learned has come through dance. The biggest lesson for me, which definitely applies to my artmaking, is that everything can be beautiful if it is true. So a dance borne of uptightness and tension becomes a beautiful, perfect expression of just that. And art made in the midst of ‘I can’t do this properly’ becomes the most perfect depiction of the view from that place. Of course, then I choose which dances and paintings I share with the rest of the world, but the key thing is that I’ve learned the difference between being aesthetically pleasing and being beautiful. Beauty is so much bigger and more powerful than prettiness.

  3. Sarah says:

    @Deb–thanks for sharing that, and it was really beautifully said–”I’m the only person who can be who I am, and do what I am supposed to do”–I love that. It’s so true and simple, but most of the time we forget.

  4. Sarah says:

    @Lunar–great, great points–your art really can be an expression of any state as you say–enjoyable states and unenjoyable states–it’s all part of the human condition that we’re exploring aesthetically. And beauty IS so much bigger and more powerful than prettiness. Thanks for saying it so perfectly!

  5. My metaphor is painting, my second metaphor is physical fitness, everything else is a distraction. In the past physical fitness got me to a place where I could handle the peaks and valleys of my life. I couldn’t be who and what I am today if running had not become my vehicle to physical and emotional health. I think that you verify my path.

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