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Is this encouraging?

Is this encouraging?

Do you like to encourage?

That seems like a dumb question, because if you teach, you want to encourage. That’s why you teach. So why did I ask this question?

Yesterday I was speaking to a business person who said she loves to work in adult coloring books. Then she told me the story I literally hear all the time.

“When I was in 7th grade, my art teacher told me not pursue a career in art. It shut me down.”

Even though I’ve heard variations of this story for years, I got pretty upset.

And you are probably upset too. I hope so. But what was this teacher thinking? Did that guy wake up that morning (and from my experience, hundreds of other art teachers), and think to himself, “I’m going to shut down some of my students today and discourage them from ever doing art again.”

I doubt it.

I think he thought he was doing her a favor, and protecting her from the horrible ravages of adult critique and pain. But what he ended up doing was applying that very adult critique and pain right there all at once in 7th grade!

Students will come to realize their own shortcomings on their own, and respond accordingly. It will happen by itself, in the perception of the student at the time that the student is willing and able to assess his or herself. We don’t have to tell ’em about hypothetical dangers in an imagined future! (yes, there might be some spit on my computer screen after that last sentence).

And you know what? The student’s response might be to double-down and work so hard that any shortcomings turn into overcomings. I’ve seen it happen so many times myself. It’s amazing what a dedicated student can achieve, and I’ve learned not to judge artists by talent.

I wasn’t there back in that 7th grade classroom, but I suspect that the teacher judged my friend on one thing: her accuracy in drawing. That’s what we do. We think if you have accuracy, then you have all you need. We’re impressed by it. We love it. We want everyone to do it; Accuracy.

Art is so much more than just accurate drawing. Design and other creative jobs don’t require it, and then there are a lot of people who can draw accurately but are not even motivated to do art. These people are not going to be successful artists either.

So we need to encourage each other, as teachers, to let kids do their thing. To wait for them to find their own solutions. To help, I’ve made up a little chart of situations below.

Basically, always speak what you truly believe and always have real permission before making a suggestion for change. Also, don’t contradict a student if they are not happy. Find out why.

What do you think? Do these suggestions seem sound, or is there a situation I’ve left out? Leave a comment and let’s keep after this important issue.

Because the world needs happy artists!

Truth that is negative – without permission Do you really want to have an intervention session?
Truth that is negative – after being asked for for it Only if carefully presented & without attaching to identity
Lie that is positive – ie: say how good something looks to you but you don’t really think so This will either be percieved as a lie and you lose all trust, or you’ve set someone up for emotional trauma later in life.
Truth that is positive – ie: find one thing you really do like, even on a work that is lacking overall Motivates a student and establishes trust.
Truth that is negative – after asking if student would like suggestions Carefully. Only works after trust has been well established. Even then, your presentation should be non-threatening, non-identity, not a big deal, and stick to offering only one or two suggestions
Truth to you, but not to the student – ie: say how good something looks to you but your student is upset about it This will also either be percieved as a lie and you lose all trust, OR the student believes you are not perceptive, OR the student feels invalidated in his or her frustrations.


About The Author

Dennas Davis

Dennas is the founder of Firstlight Arts Academy in Nashville, and also of The Art Instructor (formerly ArtSquish). He has been designing, painting, illustrating and teaching in various combinations since he learned how to hold a crayon. He is the illustrator of 24 children's books with over 5 million in print worldwide. See his paintings at

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