Encouraging the Artist Within

May 14, 2012

This post could be subtitled “A Cautionary Tale.” Last Monday, I blogged about the joy inherent in the artistic expression of children. I remember feeling that joy myself. I liked my art big and bold and life-size, if possible. Mum used to tell of going into the spare bedroom where she’d covered the bed with a clean flat sheet, to find that toddler me had drawn a mural over the entire sheet. She kept that sheet until it faded beyond recognition. I remember standing on a chair in first grade, so that I could draw huge pictures on the blackboard at recess time. My grandmother used to save shopping bags for me (at that time, shopping bags were made of paper, with stiff cord handles). I would cut the bag down the sides so that it would lie flat, then draw a person and color and cut it out, leaving one handle sticking out the head of my person. I could then carry the person around by the handle, making her “walk.” I wonder how many such people I made over the years?

There came a point, however, when I became aware that other kids in my class could draw much more realistically than I could. Other kids were “artistic.” I began to feel I was not. I don’t know now if it was just the comparison of my own art to theirs, if there were careless remarks that added up to me thinking I wasn’t good at art — however it happened, it happened. It’s all too easy to squelch that joy in artistic expression that we saw last week, and that I felt in my early years.

Are you familiar with Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers are Red?” It illustrates this perfectly. It’s available on iTunes (or Youtube). I’d urge you to give it a listen before clicking on “read more.”

I am so grateful that a person like the second teacher in that song came into my life, and expanded my view of art, and of my abilities. Pat was a friend of my Mum’s, a wonderfully creative, encouraging person, who was one of the leaders in a girls’ group I joined when I was 12. We became friends, and she started inviting me over to her home for an afternoon, or a day.

She taught me to create abstracts with oil pastels; she taught me to quilt; she taught me to do batik. Her art went beyond the perfectly representational drawings that I could not emulate. Her art was free, it was “writ large” on the page or the fabric. It sang. She encouraged the artist within me, the artist who had been intimidated. She challenged me to step beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone in many other ways, as well. She was — and is — truly a mentor to me, and we remain friends to this day.

Her main artistic work these days is in pottery, but I still receive note cards every now and then with a tiny batik on them, which brings back the memories of those wonderful, free, excitingly creative times in that little house in a town that hardly exists anymore. I will forever be grateful to her.

There is a wonderful video of Eric Carle, picture book author/illustrator par excellence, talking about his book The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (which will be my Perfect Picture Book selection this Friday). I hope you’ll take a few minutes and listen to him talk about encouraging children’s artistic freedom.

Words and actions of encouragement cost nothing, but their worth to the receiver is beyond price.

How can you, how can I, encourage a child or teen today and every day?

20 People reacted on this

  1. Beth, I loved this post and value its important message. I confess, while confident about having a go at almost anything, art is one of the things I lost courage about in primary school. How I wish I had had a mentor like your friend, Pat! Or that I had understood the important message of books such as Eric Carle’s The Artist who painted a Blue Horse (lovely video). I tell any child I can that we are all creative, and need to try LOTS of different things to discover where best our creativity flourishes. Thank you for this post.

  2. Such a wonderful post, and so true. You never know what effect a few words you say might have on a child, positive or negative. I’m sure we can all think back to specific interchanges in our lives where we remember the exact words and how they made us felt. I always try to encourage children. Everyone has something artistic to offer. We are all unique, and everyone’s contribution is valuable. It would be a shame to discourage any child!

    1. You are so right about us each having certain encounters and interchanges that remain with us, for good or for ill. Somehow we need to counteract those in our own lives, and find ways to ensure that our interactions with kids are encouraging and helpful, even when we need to discipline, or correct, or teach.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. It’s a reminder that we can encourage something beautiful when it comes to artistic expression. And it doesn’t have to be some humongous gesture. Simple words of encouragement can do so much

    1. She is awesome, indeed, Erik! Batik is an art form done with dye and hot wax on cloth. Maybe you’ve seen this done (or have done it yourself) with Easter eggs — you develop the picture by putting wax on the parts of the cloth you want to remain white (for now) then dye the cloth with the base color. After removing the wax, you can cover other parts of the cloth with wax, and dye it again, to add another color, and so on until you have a picture. It’s an art method that originated in Indonesia.

      Here’s a kid-friendly way to do batik! http://www.thatartistwoman.org/2008/07/kid-friendly-batik.html

  4. Beth this was such a beautiful post…and so true! Encouragement often means the difference in doing and not doing. If someone encourages us to try, we will, but when we feel our work, whatever it is, isn’t as good as someone elses, we lose our nerve. You did a fantastic job of reminding us of that.

    1. Thank you, Sharon. “the difference between doing and not doing” — that is such a good way to put it. Too often we set aside things completely when with a little encouragement we could have enjoyed them and perhaps added something delightful to the world.

  5. This is an important message to remember. I remember my grams encouraging me to write and tell stories when I was a child. As I grew older I stopped telling stories and being a writer wasn’t something I thought I could be then I met my husband. He help me find that inner child again.

    My husband, unfortunately, had an art teacher who scolded him for drawing unrealistic pictures (he liked to draw dragons, fairies, etc.) Thankfully he had his mom encouraging him to draw.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. I’m so glad your husband helped you discover your inner child and your inner storyteller again! I’m also glad your husband’s mom encouraged him. I wonder what talents are lost to the world because someone isn’t able to get past that early squelching of their natural eagerness to create? Thank you, Rena.

  6. Beth, such an uplifting post. It is amazing that as children we think we are capable of doing anything, until we begin school and an insensitive comment derails us. I loved drawing and painting, but really found myself doing a lot of crafting. My mother taught me to knit, sew, make handmade potholders and do needlework. It wasn’t until I was around 10 that I realized I wasn’t an artist. I noticed other kids were far more talented with painting and sketching. But, I was good at needlework and still have some of my work of 30 or more years ago framed and hanging in my home. So, I always encouraged my duaghter and other children to experiement with all forms of art until they found what was special to them.

    1. So good that you found your niche, and that you encouraged your daughter to experiment with all forms of art — the best way to learn.

  7. I am always moved when I see a child in a museum – not being dictated to by a parent, but silent – looking and wandering through the works of art: suddenly perceptive and marvelous.

    However I also think it encourages a child to tell them that they are surrounded by art; that the world is full of niches of beauty ready to be discovered. Give children the tools of art: tell them to focus on what attracted them to that flower, or corner of sky, etc. Let them express themselves and make that beauty a part of themselves!

    1. Aubrey — what wonderful thoughts! I’m going to need to quote your second paragraph in one of my posts next week, because it is so perfect. Thank you.

  8. As I said to your previous post, I love art, either sketching, painting or crafts. Love teaching be it kids or adults. (should have been an art teacher..lol) I taught myself as a kid to knit, crochet, and make netted swans (I think I have mentioned before), and of course you know I make and decorate cakes. I think there is a creative artistic flair in each of us, we just need to find it.

    1. Your ways of expressing your artistic talent are lovely, Diane. I know from photographs that your cakes are incredible!

  9. Oooooo!!!! So important!!!! So sweet, too….I wish we could see that artwork you did!

    Kids are art on wheels. It’s so sad when rules and grades and all the angst of “fitting in” chip away at the creativity inherent in their psyches.

    FABULOUS MESSAGE!!!!!!!

  10. We all see things through different eyes and interpret as such. I always supported and encouraged my kids’ artistic efforts. One of them is now an artist who specializes in collage and video. Another has an amazing talent for drawing and arranging and hopefully will one day find a professional outlet for expressing herself. I’m so proud of both of them and always love to brag on them.

    Lee
    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

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