Sunday, November 17, 2013

6 Reasons your students need to see your mediocre art

New for 2014: Follow the continuing Teaching Like an Artist series on

I've been trying to teach like an artist more lately and I'm learning a lot from the approach. I can hardly walk through the hall at the middle school now without a student asking when we can work on their next creative project. They are inspired to create music and videos. It's been an exciting year so far.

One thing I'm seeing is the value, I'd even say the blessing, of just being OK at the art I share. I've been frustrated at the mediocrity of most songs, games and other creative works I've made in my life. Now I'm opening my eyes to the gift as I see it helps me encourage others. 

Here are some thoughts...
  • I have learned the value of hard work over a long time when it comes to following a dream. Great talent might make it tempting to amaze the average person with something that was easy. For me, the desire to make a great song or popular game has been beyond my reach, but I got closer by keeping at it longer than most people I know.  Students need to hear of that as they learn to follow dreams.
  • Similarly, I've learned what it's like to push through the fear of failure. I know I'm not a great musician or graphic artist, but I've taken the plunge a few times and put my best effort out there. Every young artist has to deal with that possibility of rejection. Being barely acceptable myself, even after years of effort, provides me with tips as well as examples of failures that I lived through. I can to draw on those to encourage students. 
  • My mediocre creations seem attainable to students. They are willing to try. If my sketched cartoons were amazing maybe they'd never imagine they could do it too. Instead, I've seen many students take a shot at similar sketches when they see me draw simple figures.  
  • I can speak to the joy that comes from sharing an idea. Many artists talk about the pleasure of blessing others with their work.  I believe them, but doesn't it seem easy for them to say that when they make a comfortable living from it at the same time?  I can say with certainty that seeing my creations as a gift for others is a great reward. Sometimes I wouldn't make time for creating art for any other reason. 
  • Being just OK at many things gives me the chance to help more people as they pursue their interests. I think if I had been more disciplined 25 years ago I might have excelled in one area. Instead I spread myself thin. Now that helps a lot in my job where I have to help in every class from Digital Photography to Creative Writing to Choir.  I would never suggest to young artists that they so divide their time, but if you also find yourself average at many things, start doing each of them a little more often in class. 
  • Being OK with sharing OK art is helping me be better.  This is huge. Getting a taste of the joy of self-expression will inspire you keep at it and you'll get better. Probably more importantly, though, it gives you a chance to show your students what a learning, growing adult looks like. They will be inspired to do the same in their areas of interest.
Lest it sound like I'm lowering the standard, I do make sure the students know I'm not a great artist.  Even if the low number of hits on my YouTube videos don't clue them in, I regularly remind them I won't be feeding my family with my game designs or my songwriting.  In fact, half the reason I'm mediocre at most of my hobbies is because I didn't put in the work when I was younger.  When I see they've got a talent for something, I encourage them to do the necessary work to be great.  I also direct them to examples of professionals in the field.

Just remember that overall the students love it when they see you make barely acceptable art. Who cares if the one kid tells you his grandma draws better than you?  Most will find it entertaining. I finally get some compliments on my guitar playing and even my games seem like great fun in what is often an environment void of creativity.

So I encourage you to take plunge this week and share something new you made, even if (or maybe even because) it is just OK.


  1. Apologies if this is a duplicate comment...

    I really enjoyed your perspective, and I feel it's important for students to see their teachers as learners as well. So often, my students perceive me as an expert in EVERYTHING, which I am quick to correct. I like that they see me as an expert in some things (those things that I have practiced and learned for many, many years), but as a novice in others. Great life lessons in that!

    I do, however, believe that kids need access to experts as well... I'm ok with them seeing my mediocrity in specific skills, as long as I can also provide them access (either in person or virtually) to those experts who can help them stretch their own potential. I especially love the stories from those experts that are shared about how they "became" experts - hard work, many hours/days/years of practice, etc. So important to help kids see that it's not just a special gift people are born with - there is a labor of love that requires some perseverance. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the feedback! That's a great point and I revised the post slightly to address it.