Can, can’t

Robert Nava, 2018

Driving question: What encourages or prevents a person from taking creative risks?

I grew up in a family with limited aesthetic education. Both my parents had very little formal schooling, they were forced to drop out of school early to enter the world of work and help support their families - there is little time left for people under these circumstances to use their eyes to look slowly at anything. They are often busy taking coal out of furnaces, feeding someone else’s animals, doing someone’s else washing, cleaning someone else’s houses, taking care of someone else’s children, planting someone else’s gardens and orchards — tasks that do not necessarily involve having to appreciate or understand the good and the beautiful.

I grew up believing that Art was not for me. At school, I had a teacher who made us copy the techniques and processes of renowned painters in Art History, and rewarded those who managed to succeed in the task with a prominent place on the school’s most important mural. My works never made it to the display. It was only years later I understood how poorly a job my teacher had done in her classes with us.

Christine Mulcahey (2009) notes that

Aesthetics, like all philosophical inquiry, is based on wonder. Philosophers wonder about things most people take for granted. Young children do the same until their sense of wonder is deadened by socialization, education, or some combination of the two. They reach a plateau in their sense of wonder and their willingness to express wonder — often around the fifth or sixth grade — when they also reach a pleateau in drawing development.

This will happen to most children, including the children we have once been. Daniel Widlocher points out that there are no adult drawings because, apparently, adults don’t draw if they are not artists. He says drawing is an activity that ages over the years, just like playing games, and reveals a childlike conduct. I suppose because we grow up and stop drawing, we stop believing we can. It’s as if, collectively, we assumed that the hundred languages of children have no business whatsoever in adult life.

How many of us have made fun of ourselves or apologized for our matchstick men drawings on the board before? J. S. Lowry (1887–1976) created many paintings using large numbers of stick men and I doubt he was ever subject to self-doubt or mockery. Telling students, especially the young ones, you can’t draw sends a subtle message that there are people who can and people who can’t, when research shows that this is both a teachable and a learnable skill (Edwards, 1999).

I have for some time now changed the way I refer to my drawing skills in class: instead of saying “I can’t draw” , I tell my students drawing is not my go-to creative outlet, which is true, but I write poetry, I make text-based art, collage, vision boards, I embroider, and I take photos. I also find it important to let them know that they will never be forced to draw, but will be encouraged to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas in a range of different manners and granted the freedom to choose from those.

Gompertz (2016) mantains that:

[…] we are all perfectly capable of being artists of one type or another. Each and every one of us has the capacity to conceptualize, to step out of time and space and consider instead a range of abstract ideas and associations that are unrelated to each other or the present moment. […] The problem is, some of us have either convinced ourselves that we are not creative, or are yet to find our way.

I want my practice to help students be able to think for themselves, develop their curiosity, creativity and love of learning, gain the self-confidence and resourcefulness to navigate a future yet to be seen, and feel they have what it takes to contribute to it.

What’s more:

I would love to hear about your personal connections to this topic: Text to self connections (thoughts, experiences, friends, family, travels, school, job), text to text connections (book passages, characters, poems, articles, websites, blogs), text to world connections (television, movies, current events, games, news, pop culture), and text to visual text connections (movie scenes, photographs, memes, paintings, sculptures) are all welcome and improve not only the quality of the discussion but also our ability to bring ideas together.

What are your thoughts?




Pedagogist based in Brazil. Art history nerd. Bookworm. Passionate educator. Lifelong learner. Cat lover. Full time thinker. Free spirit. Friendly soul.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Quieting Your Performance Anxiety To Become A Successful Creative

Harnessing the Photographic Critique

Steal Like an Artist

Episode 000

Do You Need A Niche To Be Successful?

What a Surrealist Painting Taught Me about Innovation

Creativity Is The Game Of The Future

Attention Artists: Your “Late Start” or Detour Is Not a Loss But an Enrichment

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kenia Santos

Kenia Santos

Pedagogist based in Brazil. Art history nerd. Bookworm. Passionate educator. Lifelong learner. Cat lover. Full time thinker. Free spirit. Friendly soul.

More from Medium

To Grid, or Not To Grid? That is the Question

1) Comfort Collection

The 5 Best Music Videos Of January 2022

Journal Entry #1