Years ago I taught a little boy named Alex in an art class. He was five or six years old and was one of those kids who cuts construction paper so fast that it rips and crumples, and who globs glue so thick that it turns a project into a sloppy mess before the other kids have even started cutting their shape out. I loved Alex. I thought he was one of the cutest, funniest, quirkiest, most lovable kids I’d ever met. I always thought he seemed like a tiny scientist. That’s probably what he is now.
Alex was in my art class for a year or two, and over that time he got a lot better at creating art. I’m going to tell you how that happened. To begin with, I told Alex that he was amazingly fast at cutting out shapes and gluing them. I told him I’d never cut anything out and glued it that fast in my life. He beamed! He looked so pleased and proud of himself, and I think he knew I thought he was a wonderful boy. I told him that since he was so fast, he was probably going to finish his artwork way before the other students, so he might want to make the project multiple times instead of just once. So that’s what he did. I sat next to him most days and worked slowly and meticulously on my own version of the project for that day. And over time, Alex began to slow down. He cut shapes more carefully, he selected crayons more thoughtfully, and he squirted glue more reasonably (economically?). I think he slowed down because Alex had stopped thinking about the finish line and he started enjoying the process of creating. That is where great artwork happens. I loved that kid.
I also think that when you feel loved, or secure in your creative space, you find room to grow. This is why it’s far more important to have an encouraging art teacher than an especially skillful one. Skills come in time, even without being taught. But without encouragement, a person might not stick with it long enough to gain skills. Encouragement is imperative!