There IS a formula to improve your art skills. Are you using it?
When people tell me they are bad at art, what they really mean is “I can’t draw realistically.” There’s also the feeling that if people ask you to draw on command in public, well, your ability to do so (and accurately no less) is a full measure of your ability.
What if I told you there is research-based evidence that drawing can be a skill you develop and that you need no talent to improve your skills at art?!
Much of western culture has no training or education that promotes art skills or art theory or even art history in our curriculum. So I’m not surprised that so many people think you have to be “naturally” talented to become skillful in the arts. Unfortunately, this belief holds many people back from their curiosity and interest in art.
And it is completely false.
I have three examples to help debunk this myth today:
1. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
My first example comes from a book I know, have used, and recommend to students and art teachers everywhere.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a classic art book by Betty Edwards that has amazing before and after drawings of adult students with no art experience after a year of training with her. This is great evidence that we can all improve our skills with the right kind of learning AND that it’s never too late to start.
You don’t have to pick up a pencil or paintbrush before the age of 15 to be skillful or successful at art. You just need the opportunity and willingness to learn.
2. Other cultures
My second example comes from personal experience as a teacher at an international school. When I taught high school art overseas I was exposed to students of many cultures, and I noticed a trend: any of my students who had elementary level studies in Korea were “good” at drawing.
Why? Because the curriculum in Korean schools expects all students to develop skills in draftsmanship. These kids are taught to draw as part of their education!
It’s not something they are naturally good at, or is because of their ethnicity (which is sometimes a stereotype people share about Asian cultures and art). It’s EDUCATION. This is the key word here. We can learn if we are taught the right skills.
But lets say those two examples aren’t enough.
For a long time, I didn’t feel I had all the evidence I needed to support my argument that innate talent is not necessary in order to be successful at art. Then I read the book Peak, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.
There is research-based evidence (as well as a formula) in this book that shows how people, across ALL kinds of disciplines, become experts in their fields. Not only does Anders Ericsson share a formula we can apply to our art, he is very clear in his message: even if you don’t want to become “expert” because of all the time involved, EVERYONE can still improve their skills in any discipline using the formula.
He says the most important ingredient is “deliberate practice.” Too many of us bang our heads against a wall by repeatedly “practicing” but see little to no returns for those efforts.
Why? Because the practice we’re engaging in is not deliberate. Deliberate practice includes the qualities of focused attention, feedback, and specific goals made up of smaller steps or tasks to help you progress along the way.
Oh and the worst part of deliberate practice? It should be uncomfortable. It is only when we push outside of our comfort zone that we will continue to see growth in our skill.
Here’s my encouragement:
Today I want you to reflect on your efforts to become a better artist. Ask yourself, “What is the biggest concern, fear, or obstacle I’ve had while trying to improve my drawing skills?”
Now ask yourself, “What kind of training, practice or research will help me overcome this obstacle?” Does something immediately come to mind? Does it sound hard? Maybe there’s a bit of deliberate practice in your future.
You CAN become a better artist—if you want it, you can get there. And you deserve it!