I am always on the lookout for fun art books to share with students and just found my new favorite. How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa is full of colorful and engaging spreads that celebrate the people who see potential in things like scraps of paper, glue, old socks, and glitter. The author also talks about the real damage an art bully can do to creativity. An art bully might be a person who says something critical and negative about your artwork or it might be your own critical voice inside. Either way, the only way to overcome this criticism is to keep creating!
When I was in first grade, my classroom teacher was an art bully. She asked us to color in a turkey to decorate for Back To School Night, and stationed herself out in the hall with a stapler to put up our work when complete. I happily filled my turkey with colors and lines and brought my masterpiece up to my teacher, sure that she would smile with pride once she saw my drawing. Instead, she told me it wasn’t good enough to put up and sent me back to my seat. I was truly crushed. Not only did she shame me in front of my classmates, but she also blew my idea of art to smithereens. I grew up in a house filled with artists and honestly didn’t know that it was important or even better to stay within the lines when coloring. Luckily, the boy that sat next to me noticed how crushed I was and kindly showed me how to color neatly in the lines. I quickly recognized how the careful lines that all went in the same direction did look neater than my own work. I colored in another turkey and my teacher hung it up, but I was never quite the same. From then on I excelled at creating neat little pictures. Eventually, I noticed that I could draw pretty well, but there was always a little nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me that my work wasn’t good enough to hang up. College critiques in studio classes didn’t help!
I consider myself an artist through and through and it took years for me to create freely and confidently. The only thing that got me through was to keep creating. I recently saw a quote that said something like, “There’s nothing better than accomplishing something someone said you can’t do.” It’s been almost 40 years since I was in first grade and yet she popped into my head when I read the quote. It’s amazing how a critical comment can stay with us for so long.
I share my own story with students to help them realize how critical comments do real damage. I also am proud that I didn’t let that one comment keep me from my true passion to create. Mo Willems once pointed out that kids keep playing basketball even after they realize they are not going to be in the NBA but stop drawing as soon as they think they aren’t a good artist. I am honored and determined to help each of my students find their inner artistic voice and, most importantly, teach them how to keep it.
Lower School Teaching Artist