Joy+Rigor = Mastery: an Art Guide’s Perspective on the Importance of Rigor

This is part two of a guest post by Acton mom and Artist Rebecca Faubion. Enjoy!

“There are no mistakes in art.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this phrase as an Art Guide. However, I strongly disagree.

Actually, there are mistakes in art. If you draw something and the proportions are way off, it will not look right. You will feel frustrated because it’s not a good likeness. You’d probably love to know how to correct it, but instead you are told “there’re no mistakes in art.” In other words, it’s all good. Just embrace the wonky proportions and call it art!

I think this not only leads to frustration and, ultimately, kids giving up on themselves as artists. It does something worse: it closes the door on learning. If we tell someone there’s no such thing as a mistake, it’s like saying there’s no way to improve. We are reinforcing the misconception that art springs purely from intuition, is not a real “discipline,” and there’s no way to level up our skills.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The rich and complex world of art includes pathways to achieve mastery in every artistic domain. There are tried and true methods to systematically improve one’s skill in art. Take portraiture for example. A figurative Fine Art academy can teach a complete novice to eventually produce a Renaissance-level portrait. It takes time and effort, but it is possible.

Likewise, children can be taught to sharpen their observational skills, to improve hand-eye coordination, and to recognize shapes, proportions, tonal differences and so forth. There is actually an abundance of knowledge for every single artistic technique. So why aren’t we presenting this to young people?

Instead of saying “there’re no mistakes in art,” I like to say “art rewards rigor.” Mistakes are a necessary part of learning and growth. Mistakes are not to be feared. But a true work of art comes by pushing past the mistake, pressing into the full potential of an artistic goal. With the right mix of encouragement, structured guidance and personal choice, kids can become highly-skilled artists. Masterful young artisans could be emerging everywhere.

Let’s reframe our expectations. Let’s rise above the mediocrity of “there’s no mistakes.” Instead, we can roll up our sleeves and get working.
Because art rewards rigor, and as we say at Acton Academy: joy+rigor = mastery!

Rebecca Faubion is parent to a hero-in-progress at Acton Imprimis Lake Travis. She has taught art for 20+ years, including Fine Art Quests at several Acton Academies. If you’d like to learn more about Artisan, a learner-driven program for the arts, please visit Artful Kids Club.