It’s not very often I write a follow-up to a previously published column, but I did get some interesting communications on my last Artful Life column entitled, “Confidence, the Good Kind.” So, I would like to revisit the topic of nurturing confidence in folks young and old, and including ourselves.
The most interesting call I received on the subject came from a semi-retired school teacher from New Hampshire. Here’s what she had to share:
“Ask a classroom of first- and second-graders who in the room can sing, and 95 to 100 percent of those students will raise their hands. Ask the same question to fourth- and fifth-graders, and maybe 60 to 70 percent will raise their hands. Now, ask this question of seventh-graders, and you might get 10 to 15 percent responding. By high school, it’s a miracle if any student raises a hand — even those who can sing will rarely admit it.”
So, it takes approximately nine or 10 years to wipe out the confidence for self-expression in the average child. Pretty discouraging numbers, if you ask me. But, how do we alter this disintegration of the soul? Well, we can start by considering the most likely causes.
As a teacher or parent — or any adult who interacts with children — do you stress the importance of accuracy over artistry? Even though art is always subjective, do you still, perhaps unintentionally, teach children that the audience is more important than the artist? Do you nudge them away from off-key music or awkward drawings for their sake, or because it might not be pleasing to the more sophisticated listener/viewer? Be honest now.
Teaching beginning drawing classes to adults has shown me how skewed creative expression becomes with age. Too many of my students are so hung-up on “getting it right” that they’ve lost sight of the joy that comes from simply doing. “I can’t draw a straight line.” “Then draw curly ones,” I tell them. “I can’teven draw a stick-figure.” Why would you? Have you ever met a stick-figure? “But it doesn’t look like I want it to.” Then maybe your problem isn’t your drawing but what you want from it. If I can just restore the wonderful feeling — that pure joy they got from drawing as children — then all techniques will reveal themselves in time. I promise, promise, promise.
And sometimes it works, but occasionally I run into my least favorite wall of resistance: “My husband/wife/sibling/parent teases me for not being good.” [Insert growl here.] “So what!” I want scream, “They’re not drawing it you are!” They don’t have to get a blessed thing from your art, only you do. Even a “bad” drawing should bring the artist a feeling a lot closer to exultant than to anything else. My hardest battle is fighting someone’s fear of making a fool of themselves. Personally, I think the right to make a fool of oneself should have been written into the Constitution — unless that’s covered under “pursuit of happiness.”
Is this also what dilutes confidence in our children? Is PERSONality the price we watch youngsters pay for popularity? I was recently sent a cartoon picturing two little girls whispering to each other and a third little girl sitting alone with a dreamy expression on her face. The first girl whispers, “That girl over there is an artist.” And the second girl replies, “Ohhh! I thought she was just weird!” Wish I had read that when I was a kid.
So, here’s what we can give our children this holiday season: A lot more encouragement for the love of singing, dancing, drawing, playing the banjo, or any artful form of expression; some strong tools to defend themselves against critics; and the knowledge that the act of artistic expression is far more important than the results.
Or, perhaps a donation to the music/art department of your local school? Consider it your gift to society in its broadest sense.