Select Page

Outsmarting the Genie

Outsmarting the Genie

“Why doesn’t my kid make me a beautiful work of art in your class?”

Have you ever heard that one? I have.

So, pretend I’m a magic genie and I give you a choice. You have one wish. The only limitation is that your wish has to be about food.

Genies are always putting conditions on their wish granting. It’s a thing.

Your first thought may be to wish for the most amazing dish of your favorite dessert, say, chocolate cake for instance (my choice for sure). But being more savvy, you might progress with that idea. Expand upon it.

What if your wish was that you could easily make the most amazing chocolate cake whenever you wanted to?

Endless amazing favorite dessert! From your own hands. It’s not quite as easy, but you get a lot more out of it, and so does everyone you know. The quick and gratifying one-time cake wish isn’t nearly as good a goal as being able to make fantastic cake the rest of your life.

You’d get a lot more out of that one limited wish I granted. You’d have outsmarted me.

The ability is better, but it doesn’t seem as magical. It’s like ordinary work, so why have a genie at all? Because the genie allowed you to make the cake easily, and very, very well.

This is how I approach teaching art. The teacher is the genie. The dessert is a work of art. Students and parents often do not understand the long-term goals.

My mother took art lessons for many years and brought home many finished paintings. She was so frustrated that she couldn’t recreate her own versions at home, that she eventually gave up art altogether.


The goal is to teach an ability that allows someone to easily make satisfying artwork all the time, for the rest of their life. Not necessarily to make one work that people like right now.

A quick explanation is to ask a parent how many concertos a piano student could learn in one year. But actually, it’s more like how many concertos a piano student could write in one year. This is a good schema for helping someone make a paradigm shift, but sometimes you need to explain more in-depth. For that, go to a specific example.

Here’s an example from this week’s lesson plans.

We have a lesson that uses a popular movie, Star Wars, to teach 3 things; an important insight about color, a blending technique, and a cool glowing light effect. The lesson doesn’t produce any significant artwork to take home. It’s just fun for the kids.

But they learn 3 amazing techniques! And because it’s fun, they’ll remember the techniques more easily.

If I gave a student a photo of a building at night and showed them how to draw it, and make a glowing window, it might be very cool. The student might enjoy doing my idea. Or they might think it is very boring. Either way, there are many other considerations, such as how to draw a building in perspective, using rulers and working with a lot of dark colors.

There is a very good chance that the student would be frustrated and would not be proud of the end result. Even a great student may or may not produce a work they like.

This means they are not fully engaged and may even feel like a failure.

Would they remember how to make dark colors by mixing opposites? Maybe not.

Would they remember how to make blends from light into dark? Maybe not.

Would they be excited about blending more than one pastel color together? Probably not.

Now let’s look at on part of the lesson in KidsART and Foundations Grade 3-5, the light sword project.

We show the students how to blend and make a glowing light sword, with a step-by-step slideshow. It’s quick, and it’s loads of fun. We do this right after the holidays, because that’s the most likely time a Star Wars movie will be released.

The kids are super-engaged. This is something they’ll want to do over and over, even showing their friends.

Then we do “battle” with the colors. A warm colored sword is placed next to a cool colored sword, and the pastels that were used to create them are mixed and blended. They see the result creates a neutral color. They are more likely to remember that the battle did this, than if they made a boring neutral color for a rock or wall.

So for the rest of their life they will remember how neutrals and secondaries are made. They’ll remember that it was fun to blend colors. They’ll want to do it again.

When they are ready to express themselves and create new artwork, they have these techniques in their repertoire and will use them over an over.

They’ll be making awesome chocolate cake for the rest of their lives


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


Never rewrite a lesson plan again. Read ours once, print your PDFs, and use our easy SCROLL & TEACH lesson plan right on your phone (or other device).

We’ve even included a SUBMIT YOUR SUMMARY text. Just copy & paste and you can send to your principal. It’s an abbreviated lesson plan, with standards and learning targets.


Look for the READY, SET, GO! section at the bottom of each page. There’s background info, lists, and a printable Prep Page so you don’t have to write down a thing.