I first titled this article “Learners vs. Keepers” and expected to write about how doing artwork is always about learning, even if you don’t like what you end up with. But when I started writing, I wandered over into a rabbit trail. Sometimes that’s a good thing, as this is an important issue to discuss.

The Myth

Every adult I’ve ever taught has a story from their youth, about how an art teacher told them to stop doing art because they weren’t good enough. Every single one.

One of the most amazing myths of art that almost everyone believes, is that doing bad work means you’re a bad artist. Some artists, especially young ones, believe doing bad art means you are not worthy of doing art and they will quit.

What makes this myth even worse, is when an art teacher believes it, and then tells a student they’re not good enough.

There is no circumstance where you should ever say that to anyone.

Ok, I’m sure that someone is now thinking they want to add a comment to the effect of, “hey Dennas, what about the dismal work consistently produced by my young student who thinks he is somehow going to make a fabulous career out of art?” 

Vincent is cool

Who wouldn’t want to see this in their living room every day? (if it wasn’t so valuable).

He got better.

I respond with, “what would you have told Vincent Van Gogh?” He consistently created horribly dismal work for quite some time, before trying new things, and developing a style that is arguably one of the best known and well-loved styles of any artist who ever lived. He created bad work (like the baby above), later in life too, but we would still gladly pay millions to have one. Not because it’s good to look at, but because Vincent painted it. The value is created by supply and demand. This painting is Vincent’s learner. He made better babies afterwards.

I feel a need to defend my use of the word “bad” when referring to a Van Gogh painting. “Look at all that expressive vigor in the baby’s face! The potato eaters are so expressive and amazing. Look at the genius!”

Come on admit it. You think that baby is a mess. You would worry about this young man’s ability to make it as an artist. And he didn’t. Vincent was an utter failure at the business of art. No one saw value in his efforts at the time.

But should he have quit?

The fact is, that it’s not an art teacher’s responsibility to decide who can make it as an artist. You can talk to students who are clueless about their work, and suggest that they try new things. You can treat people with respect, and still gently help them think about their work and what they are good at.

Steer, do not apply brakes. You cannot know what someone is capable of when they go after it with time and determination.

You could tell young Vincent, “have you thought about adding more color to these potato eaters?”

You can tell a student who wants to be an animator, yet can’t draw figures at all, “you’ll need to study and work on anatomy to do what you want to do.”

“A lot”.

But don’t tell her she is not “cut out to be an animator”.

Ok. I’m done with my rant. Go back to changing lives, and remember… encouragement matters.

The World Needs Happy Artists.