learning art.

Warning: Long Post.
Only read the following to the end if
you believe in the power of art,
you believe in the ability to learn,
you believe that you can grow as an artist, and
you believe that all people — young and old — can learn, grow, and become.


Yesterday, I was talking to someone on the phone about a writing teacher job.
(an “informal interview” or “pre-interview,” before the “real interview”)

What they said blew. me. away.
(And not in a good way.)

This person (we’ll call him “J”) is a former editor, a published author, and (more recently) an academic teacher of writing. He has a degree in English.


Back to what J said that left my hair blown back (and my jaw on the ground).
And, I quote,

“I don’t think you can teach writing fiction. It’s a gift.
You either have it or you don’t.”

My breathing s.t.o.p.p.e.d.
I paused. A BIG pause.

IF he’s right (a whopper-sized IF),
(is it only to weed out the haves from the have-nots?) and

(because then we should just test for “gifted” kids and throw out the rest) and

then I’m wasting a WHOLE lot of money and time on my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Fiction Writing.
Because MFAs are about someone teaching you how to write fiction.
(but that’s another post)

Question of the day:
Or is art only for a special population who are born with the artist-gene?

What about those who are starting out, with no clue?
Artists of any kind who are young or old?
They’re ignorant, but it’s not their fault.
(yes, I’m yelling)

Once a learner gets a chance to observe, listen, read, learn, and practice, then

Consider this, J:

1. 10,000 hours. Talk to Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote the book, Outliers. Gladwell believes people can become masters at a skill after logging 10,000 hours in the activity. Granted, when it comes to some sports, Gladwell’s claim is disputed. But what about Suzuki methodology, where little kids are immersed in music from a young age and, no matter the background, they become “gifted” musicians?

I’m trained in Suzuki methodology (see my bio) I’ve seen kids from all backgrounds become musicians. ALL backgrounds. With parents who can’t tap their foot on the beat if their life depended on it. I’ve seen kids from all around the world, transplanted into families through adoption, become brilliant musicians, artists, dancers.

Take my own young son, who was born in the mountains of Guatemala, who could’t clap on the beat and had zero musical input, who’s now a skilled dancer. And how about another son, from an orphanage in the Far East, who didn’t have a lick of art in his life, no paper and pen to draw with, who — after hours and hours of instruction and immersion — is on his way, someday, to work at Pixar or some other studio.

When we say, “you have to be gifted to do this,” you’re making a judgment. But YOU DON”T KNOW.

2. Leadership Theory. I saw it all the time when teaching leadership at a university for seven years. Invariably, when it came to leadership, students came in thinking, “You either have it or you don’t.” Wrongo. Leadership is learned. Yes, those with emotional intelligence grasp and use the skills faster (because transformational leaders exhibit high emotional intelligence). But EVERY SINGLE STUDENT who came into my diverse classroom, by the end of the course, exhibited new leadership skills. They all LEARNED.

3. The Mastery 7 Principle. For over 30 years, I’ve been digging into why some people learn and others “don’t.” What I’ve found, over and over, is that most people don’t master a skill because they’re missing one of the seven must-haves to learn the skill. (More on that in another post…)

The short of it: It’s not the student’s fault. It’s one of two things:
1) the instructor’s fault, in HOW it’s taught (not taught the parts of the task in small enough pieces, not enough repetition, not taught in the learning style, etc.), or it’s
2) that the information is missing an element (the information is incorrect).

It’s not the student! The skills can be LEARNED.
(J just might be missing something)

If you want to be a skilled writer and published author, YOU CAN.
If you want to be a skilled painter and published artist, YOU CAN.
If you want to be a photographer and published artist, YOU CAN.
If you want to be a dancer and professional gigger, YOU CAN.

Which reminds me. You might say, “Wait a minute! What about something like dance? What about those people who physically don’t have what it takes? What if that person is deaf, or in a wheelchair, or blind, or whatever? They can’t do it–they aren’t physically able!”

Don’t tell that to Beethoven.
(he was deaf when he wrote his Ninth Symphony)

Don’t tell that to VanGogh.
(reportedly, he was color blind).

Don’t tell that to my young son from Guatemala who’s a dancer…
a young man who has only five degrees of a visual field, with 20/125 acuity (translated: way legally blind)

who gets up at seven in the morning to stretch,
literally never complains before, during, or after a workout
(of which he’s in for over 20 hours a week),
watches dancers on YouTube and on TV “to learn,”
and works his tushie off to master his art.
(he puts me to shame)

No excuses.


* Thup

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