Creativity Counts



This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!


How to encourage aspiring artists and avoid emotional bullets

One of the most awkward situations I encounter when teaching art is the minefield parents and friends walk through trying to say the right things to support the art making process without stuffing it up. To all those wonderful parents, partners and friends who send their aspiring artist to me so that I can help expand their skill sets and creativity, I say thanks. That’s where the support starts – giving then a avenue to grow. This art stuff is tricky, not only for the art maker, but their supporters. Far too many times I have witnessed parents and supporters trying to say the right things when shown a new artwork and completely wounding the creator, in just a few short words. And they did this without intention. You can wound us artists without even knowing it.

To alleviate this tension I have listed below a few tips that might help keep you out of trouble and nurture your artists’ creative journey. And the best thing is, you don’t have to know anything about art!

Top tips for discussing artwork

> Ask what the artwork is about.

Don’t assume or try and guess what the images are – if you’re wrong the creator might feel bad that the image was not obvious. I realise a parents’ reflex (job) is always to know things and ‘sort things out for the child, but art making does not require this. It is far better not to take a guess, and do as a grandparent does… be more interested in the child and their choices rather than the product….. the art maker will love telling you about the work but really you are teaching to explain what they learnt and why they made the art that way. This is the first step to self critique. This skill is a great one to practice because art theory is all about this. You are prepping them for their school essays without even knowing it! For adults, it is just as important in reviewing why and how they did the artwork.

> Ask about the size, colours and mediums (paint, pencils etc) used.

They will love explaining what and why they made these choices. Perhaps they didn’t but let them explain this. I remember a student waiting to show her mother her completed artwork at the end of a class one day. She had worked hard on this and was really proud of her achievement. When she did show her mother, the first thing mum said was ‘ Oh it’s black and white, didn’t you have any colour.”  The student interpreted this as a criticism, as a failure and burst into tears. Both mother and daughter felt terrible. The brief was to use only black and white to create the work. Poor mum never knew and the little artist decided the artwork was no good after this comment instead of being proud.

Note to parents. Your children see you as super heroes, yes, even when they get a bit older, they just won’t admit it. They are always trying to impress you. Put on your ‘growth mind’ when you discuss their art and remember that we all like to leave a discussion on a positive, what was good about the work, rather than a negative (what you could have done better).

Here’s a snippet from the book Night Street by Kristel Thornell. It’s a fiction novel based on the life of Australian landscape artist Clarice Beckett. It illustrates beautifully the emotion an artist commits to creating and the fallout a parent faces when they only want to help …

“ She let her parents see her art as little as possible and only when prepared. There had been an occasion, when she ran into the house with a painting she had just then completed, to present it to them. A view of Bay Road, a Model-T Ford from behind, a curious shadow thrown by a gum. Clarice was inebriated with what had happened: she had directed her full attention at the landscape, that landscape had returned the favour by looking right back at her – with the same intensity – and she had tried to capture the shared look in paint.
Her parents adjusted their glasses, drew breath.
‘Ah. Well, ‘ Mum said, after a moment, labouring at tact.
There was a smart-aleck light in Father’s face. ‘The sky is a funny colour ,’ he contributed.
Later, Clarice would see the attempt at the Bay Road as painfully imperfect, laughably flawed. The perspective awkward. The shadow not right.

But their failure to find important what had seemed somehow holy to her came on Clarice like a physical attack. Beside the point, that their opinion may have been correct. It was subtle, dressed in mildness, and they were no doubt ignorant of it; nonetheless, she suffered it, in the moment, as an attack. She half laughed and, before understanding the action, flung the painting across the room. It hit the was, caught on the back of a chair. Fell, finally, to the floor, face down. General stupification, as if she had just confessed to an outlandish crime. Clarice, the quiet introvert, had done this loud, appallingly emotional thing. No one spoke or made a move to retrieve the painting. She turned and left.

Returning some hours after, humiliated and now humbled, she found the painting on the top step of the verandah. Reproach? Apology? Who had left it there? Theory had shown her it was hideous, her own presumptuousness; Father was not mistaken – the sky was fancifully ardent, hysterical turquoise. She picked it up with the heartbroken futility she might have felt handling the corpse of a young animal. The paint was a little smudged, but the board was intact. She wished it had cracked.

> Ask what their favourite bit in the artwork is or what they enjoyed most about making the art.

Here you can point out one section that you might like. It will make the student look at the other parts in the work that they did not consider. Do not say you don’t have a creative bone in your body and then proceed to critique the work. Art has a language, just like any other language, unless you learn it, and also understand the techniques it is unfair to critique the work. If you think you are not a creative person, just ask about the work and let the student educate you. You will make their day! Otherwise it can turn out like musician telling a doctor how to operate… they just don’t have the background experience to direct. I hear you say that art is open to interpretation… yes I agree, but we are talking about art education and developing artists, not fixing them.

There is an easy way out… why not say how hard you think being creative is, and how much you admire their ability to take on creative challenges. This will empower your children’s enthusiasm for art and risk taking. You might even ask them how they did a particular item in the work.

> Ask them about what art materials they like to use and what they would like to try.

This is a great way to sneak gift ideas but more importantly it allows the student to think forward about the next artwork they may make, rather than be too self critical about the one they have made.

> Ask them to give you a tip on creating that artwork. How would they help another artist negotiate the materials so that they could achieve a positive outcome? 

Students are used to being the learner. It is rare that they are actually get asked for advice. Being asked by an adult for a recommendation would be a treat. It also shows that you value their opinion and respect their experience. I am always presently surprised when I ask a student who I thought was not really paying attention. When their opinion is taken seriously you will see an instant respect for what they have created and they will be only too happy to help encourage others in the class, rather than see it as a competition.

I hope these tips help encourage you to have more conversations about art instead of run to the other room and pray no one asks your opinion! I hope it helps you avoid some emotional bullets. I get it, those artists can be a touchy bunch. But this is part of the reason you love the way they see the world. They feel, see and question life more than most. It comes with greater highs and lower lows, but it adds colour to your life in ways you never imagined.

Here’s to all my colour warriors. I got you. May your life always be bright beyond the beige! May you never stop creating!


Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on 
© Kristine Ballard 2017.