I’ve spent 20 years of my professional life in public and private school education. Over the years new ideas about learning and the ways students learn have come and gone but one that has stuck is the concept of the growth mindset. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., in her seminal work on a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset helps us understand that it is all about the attitudes we hold about whether we can continue to learn or not. It is about our mindset NOT our ability level.
“...no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.” ― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success
What Does this Have to Do with Art?
Glad you asked. EVERYTHING.
For the past two years, I’ve taught hundreds of students the beauty and flow of alcohol inks. More than that, I asked them to dig deep to think about creativity and what has held them back on their creative journeys. The many TED talks that students listen to in my course seem to uncover their fixed mindsets about themselves and their inability to just “go with the flow” or “play” or “experiment” and to “take risks” and be “vulnerable”. For many, it was something someone said years ago that stuck with them about their art or their capabilities as an artist and I can feel the sadness bubble up in some students. They want another chance at art and their creative selves.
The Power of Yet
Over and over again, I hear women and men state what they can’t do. The first thing they do when posting their art in our Facebook community is describe their art in negative terms - what it doesn’t look like rather than the growth they should be feeling from learning a new medium. They believe wholeheartedly in a fixed mindset. Or, they simply do not understand that they are on a wonderful learning curve. The power of the word "yet" denotes that we are simply not there—yet. By putting in the time, the effort, and the commitment to becoming better at our craft, we can moved from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
From the beginning of my class we move quickly away from this fixed mindset and the negative talk stops and students begin, little by little, to describe their art in terms of success, in terms of growth, rather than in failure. It is a wonderful thing to witness.
Let’s Go Back a Little
Okay….here we are all adults reading my blog. But, remember back to a time when you were learning something. Anything. Math. How to read. How to ride a bike. How to learn how to write. How to research. Or, How to lose weight. How to exercise consistently. How to eat healthy. How to make your marriage better. How to learn to really listen to your children. If you are reflective and committed to personal growth, you knew that it was never going to be easy. You knew you had to put in the hard work. Whatever it was in your life where you needed to truly put in the effort, where you were able to see results from that effort, you moved from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It really is that simple.
There was always the power of “yet” in the back of your mind. I am not there "yet", but I know I can get there!
The same theory applies to artists. I can tell you after six years of painting with alcohol inks, I continue to hone my craft and continue to explore. I never, ever have a fixed mindset and believe that with time, commitment, and the passion to want my art to be beautiful and different, I need (no - I MUST) put in the time to do what needs to be done.
“Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It's about seeing things in a new way. When people...change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.” ― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
The quote above from Carol S. Dweck is a perfect one to describe artists. I remind my students all of the time that we are ALL learners. We are all growing. Taking an e-course for a few weeks is not the answer. What my course does provide is foundation of a growth mindset as I talk about this over and over again and nudge my students away from judging their art to learning from their art.
We have a saying in my class that things are not difficult or challenging, they are “simply an opportunity for growth”. If you take one quote away from this blog, I do hope it is that one. See how it shifts your thinking. Any challenge feels like an immovable object. It is fixed. It is difficult. BUT, the opportunity for growth, feels lighter. It allows you to look at your mistakes as simply lessons to be learned so that you can improve in the next piece. It truly is about seeing your art in a whole new way.
So, next time you feel that you are incapable of learning something, think about the fixed mindset vs the growth mindset. Give yourself a continued opportunity to learn. Think about the power of “yet”.
When starting any new artistic venture, remember where you were when you started, how much knowledge about the medium you began the course with, and with each lesson realize that you are learning more and more. Set goals for yourself (that is a whole other blog post), what do you want to get out of the course, how will you know if you were successful, and does success always have to do with the final product or could you be growing as a more patient and less judgmental artist? You’ll see that the effort you put in will result in growth. It always does. Just reframe your thinking and you will feel transformed.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.” — Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success