Is my kid's talent predictive of artistic talent? If so what should I do about it?
October 24, 2012 1:51 PM   Subscribe

My daughter is almost seven and is a bright kid in most ways, and I think she might be exceptionally gifted in drawing. She is enrolled in a school which is great in some ways, but art is not an area of its focus (I have my own reasons for this prioritization, although maybe it's time to rethink them.) I want to do right by her and nurture her talent, if it is exceptional. Help me figure out if she's unusual, and what to do about it.

My girl has always liked to draw (like most little girls, right?) but she's skilled in a way I never was. It's way out of the league of what I see her classmates doing; but I don't know whether it's exceptional in the bigger picture. So far what she's been doing is copying other drawings -- images from storybooks, usually. Hers come out looking almost as if they were traced, although I know they weren't. I guess this sounds kind of goofy, like so what if your kid makes perfect freehand copies of someone else's drawings? - but the thing is, I've never seen a kid of this age turn out drawings like this. Most adults couldn't. I know I couldn't.

Should I try to get her into a figure drawing class? Putting her into a general arts and crafts context doesn't seem to be the right thing... I already hear her being self conscious about how much better her drawings are than her peers' when they do art stuff in school (which isn't often, as I said.) (I told her that doing her best is not the same as bragging and that she should never hide her abilities, but I'm not sure I'm messaging it right.)

To sum up -- is precocious 2D -> 2D freehand copying ability in a 6 year old a talent that matters enough that I should be nurturing it, and if so, how?
posted by fingersandtoes to Education (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some kind of a kids' art class at a local museum or something? Or through your local university?

An art teacher would be better able to assess talent, and even if it turns out that your daughter isn't talented, she's still doing something she likes with a bunch of other kids that also like to do that same thing, and that way she makes more friends if nothing else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Any talent that a child enjoys engaging with is worth nurturing, IMHO.

Let go of the idea that she's "exceptional" or precocious -- maybe she is, maybe she isn't, it doesn't matter in the long run, and framing it to her that way can be counterproductive. But by all means find her some art extracurriculars if she's interested.
posted by ook at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2012 [32 favorites]

I think you might want to have your child assessed for a Gifted & Talented kind of thing. You might want to have a discussion with an inclusion advisor (these folks usually work with the kids in Special Ed, but can be knowledgeable about gifted kids too) at your child's school to find out if such a thing is possible through your school district, or to see if the advisor has a recommendation for an extra-cirricular assessment.

Then the person doing the assessment can make recommendations for appropriate enrichment.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't matter if she's unusually talented. If she loves drawing, you should foster her interest in it. So often kids are told by adults they're not good at X and therefore shouldn't bother. As if the only purpose for something like drawing is to become the next Picasso. Or, frankly, as if artistic talent is something you either Have or Lack. Which is not really true.

If you can possibly afford it, you should get her exposed to as much art as you can.

Get her into an art class, yes. Seven is probably young for something as specialized as life drawing -- see what is offered for elementary school kids in your area, and get her into whatever interests her.

Also look into general enrichment programs that offer creative stuff. A lot of these programs sort of lead into each other and feed into more and more ambitious things. For example I did art classes in elementary school that led to the local community college's day camp in middle school, which led to sleepaway camp for classical theatre and maskmaking, which led to my state's residential magnet high school. Going there gave me exponentially more access to arts education than if I'd attended a traditional high school.

I didn't have to take those specific art classes in third grade in order to qualify, of course, but doing that stuff gets you into a subgroup of the sorts of kids that do that kind of thing, which leads to more and more opportunities down the road.

Beyond classes and activities, expose her to the arts in general. Take her to museums -- even if that means traveling. If there are art museums in your area, look for memberships, family programs, and the like. Expose her to the arts aside from painting/drawing type stuff, too. Take her to concerts and the theatre. Show her really great movies. Keep fueling her creative energies.
posted by Sara C. at 2:01 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I told her that doing her best is not the same as bragging and that she should never hide her abilities, but I'm not sure I'm messaging it right.)

That's about right. Tell her to do her best. Remind her that everyone's good at something, and being good at drawing isn't better than being good at, say, playing guitar - it's just different.

To sum up -- is precocious 2D -> 2D freehand copying ability in a 6 year old a talent that matters enough that I should be nurturing it


and if so, how?

Engage with her on this. Figure out what her favorite things are to copy - maybe cartoons or comic books or whatever - basically anything with more than one character - and encourage her to maybe make up some of her own characters for it. Early ones will look a lot like existing characters with minor details changed. This is normal.

And yeah, a local museum or university might have something. Life drawing classes might be a bit much for a seven year old. Not so much in terms of the nudity as that it's a lot to take in. You might try basically tricking her into doing a still life - arrange some toys or whatever and draw them together. See how well she translates non-2D stuff into drawing. Do drawing stuff together, no matter how good or bad you are at it, because if you do that then it's a fun thing she does with you and won't feel like an assignment.

Beyond that, an art teacher at her school might have some ideas.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:01 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have given private drawing lessons with a quite skilled now-14-year-old boy for over two years while I've been getting my MFA. I was contacted by the father through an email he sent to the School of Art graduate program that was forwarded to all of us. Apparently at least three of us contacted him with interest, and he looked through our portfolios to choose a match with the type of artwork his son was interested in.

The boy really enjoys getting his work into shows, so maybe also research ones she'd qualify for in the area. It's actually really hard to find shows that allow under-18 entry.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:01 PM on October 24, 2012

Do schools have G&T for art, though? Anyplace I've seen it has been strictly academic aptitudes (math, reading).

I would say that's pretty advanced for her age; my son is the same age and still does mostly stick figures. As long as she has encouragement and maybe a few classes, she'll figure out what she wants.
posted by emjaybee at 2:03 PM on October 24, 2012

(To be clear, the lessons started when he was 11. It was not at all too early to start lessons, and the self-conscious thing isn't an issue one-on-one.)
posted by vegartanipla at 2:06 PM on October 24, 2012

I'm not sure that it's going to be helpful to her at this point to focus on whether or not she's 'talented'. Aside from anything else, children who are good at drawing fall very easily into the pattern of always having to produce 'perfect' drawings, which means they don't do hard things which don't come out looking as good, which means they don't learn. Moreover, you need to think hard about what you envisage coming out of this - skilled draughtsmanship isn't in and of itself valued tremendously highly in the art world at the moment, so being amazing at drawing doesn't set you up for a great career in the way that, say, being amazing at playing a musical instrument does. This isn't to dismiss the joy and satisfaction that being a great draughtsman can bring, or the genuinely interesting things one can accomplish with it. Earlier today I found myself wishing fervently that I could draw the kind of realist cartoons I can imagine so vividly in my head, in much the same way that I sometimes wish I could dance in order to express something. Just don't expect that this skill alone will make her an artist, or even an illustrator, of any worth. It takes more than that.

What is important is that she feels she can enjoy this skill she has - and enjoy it for herself, not for the admiration it brings her. You need before anything else to shield her from the pressure to draw 'perfectly' as well as the pressure not to draw too 'perfectly'. Get her art classes, but make sure she learns about the totality of what art can do, not just about representation. If you can, get her to a group of kids that don't think of art as some kind of competition, but as something playful and enjoyable. Encourage her to take risks and to make mistakes and to learn.
posted by Acheman at 2:11 PM on October 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

My mom encouraged my artistic talent at that age by picking up a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and we had a great time doing the exercises together. She never told me that I was particularly talented, but she did focus on getting me to think about things like color and texture and why I enjoyed doing it. That kept me from worrying about whether each drawing would be good or not, and my love of drawing is still one of the great joys of my life. We also went to museums and talked about the art there. Later when we were less paycheck-to-paycheck, they signed me up for art classes at the local museums, summer school programs, etc., and I eventually applied and was admitted to my state's public art high school.

Of all of those experiences, drawing with my mom was the best!
posted by kitarra at 2:16 PM on October 24, 2012 [14 favorites]

I would have loved that, at that age or anytime thereafter.

An approach that might be interesting would be to expose her to arts based on drawing -- ink drawing, painting, etc. Different styles, too. Some kids get caught up in the perfectionistic pressure to master pure representation/realism. Learning about expression balances that out. I took a Chinese brush painting class when I was a pre-teen and it was awesome -- to learn about another tradition and what they considered perfect, stylistic differences, how to use a different kind of paper and hold a brush differently, etc.
posted by xo at 2:16 PM on October 24, 2012

I would shy away from describing your daughter's skill as artistic talent, which is more about creativity. Does she only copy other drawings, or has she attempted to draw from her imagination or environment? While figure drawing certainly seems like the logical next step for your daughter, I'd also want to expose her to a variety of media (paint, clay, etc) and more importantly give her an appreciation for art. Bring her to a local art museum; they probably have events or tours for children if you are not art-savvy yourself.
posted by acidic at 2:26 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I loved to draw at an early age. The best thing my parents did for me was give me plenty of paper to draw on, different types of pencils and pens to draw with, and several kid-friendly books on how to draw various things/animals. These little things go a long way and will mean a lot to her if she really likes to draw. Besides, you will need these things anyway if you decide to enroll her into a class.
posted by nikkorizz at 2:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find a continuing education level children's art class -- or even an adult drawing and painting class. These are often offered by your local art school, museum or University/community college, and are normally taught by local artists and/or art instructors. The kid-level ones are designed to nurture talent and expand the students range of media, subjects and frame of reference, but talented kids are usually welcome in adult classes too. At 6 she might be a little young for life drawing, but there's all levels of drawing classes that work with a series of different subjects and approaches.

A local community center will usually offer classes too, but they're less likely to be challenging enough for a talented student who wants to learn.

My parents mistakenly put me in an adult drawing class offered by the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr) when I was around 10 or 11, and it was a joy and a revelation.

Don't worry about her being a 'genius' -- if it's something she enjoys, she'll be happy doing it, and there's no 'right way' to make good art.
posted by jrochest at 2:32 PM on October 24, 2012

The people who become exceptional at things later in life - Olympic athletes and prize-winning artists or musicians, for example - are that way because they were interested in these things as children and got support to work on those skills and excel from an early age and practiced a ton. It's not because they woke up one day suddenly talented or inherited the music gene. She loves it and probably does it a lot, so that's why she's way ahead of her peers. That's what being talented is all about.

Others have given great recommendations. If you have the space, setting up a little arts & crafts area was the best thing my family did for me (the basement, a couple fold out tables with newspaper on top that I could drip paint or glue all over without worry, and miscellaneous art supplies), following closely by always giving me cool arts/crafts presents (a 'how to draw cartoons' book, different colored clay, cool paints and my own canvas, silk-dying kit, bead jewelry kit, etc.). At that age I remember being really into watercolor painting, and had just started playing around with messy paper mache, which were both things I could do at home so long as I had the initial introduction on how to use them and a safe place to be totally messy,.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 2:33 PM on October 24, 2012

And yes, I second acidic: put her in general art classes and let her find out what she really likes to do.
posted by jrochest at 2:33 PM on October 24, 2012

When I was in 2nd grade, back when there was still finding in public schools for the arts, I was pulled out of one of my other classes once a week for an extra hour of grifted art instruction. I took gifted art all the way through high school, does your child's school have a program like this? I also took summer art classes through the park, which were nice, but I was so much better than everyone else that I got a little conceited about it. I didn't take a (nude) figure drawing class until I was 14, which was a special offering from The Art Institute of Chicago. Boy was my mom surprised when I came home with those drawings! Still, I suggest keeping your child in her peer group, with other students that are interested and good at art. I think that 7 is too young for an adult class, and would verge on babysitting. Look at museums, art school, and maybe talk to your school's art teacher to ask for suggestions on how to encourage your child artistically. They may suggest certain materials, or a local class.

I'd suggest encouraging her and giving her the resources and inspiration she needs to keep it up. Sure, I could draw photo-realistically, but once I got past that and started drawing creatively I really felt like an artist. She's young though, and I think encouraging whatever style she likes is great, because that will change over time. Copying is a skill, creating is a talent that will come, in time with practice.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:42 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to look at this, if you haven't already: Drawing With Children.
It's based on the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain concept, but at a more kid-appropriate level. There's also some good information in their about how kids develop as artists. Your local library may have a copy as it's a well-known book.

Also-- I read this somewhere, maybe drawing on the right side o' the brain or elsewhere-- someone asked Picasso whether he could be an artist and the answer was, "I don't know. Do you like the smell of paint?" In other words, enjoying the process of creating is the most important ingredient. More important than talent, whatever that is.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:54 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My daughter was very skilled at drawing from an early age, and she's graduating from a very competitive art school this year. We bought mountains of drawing pads, pencils, markers, and such, put her into art classes wherever we could find them and afford them (after school, Saturdays, etc.) and encouraged her to make art for presents, our birthdays, and so on. We also took her to museums, had her meet working artists in all media, and basically showed her that it was possible for this to be something grownups did for a living. She loved every second, but if she'd decided that she wanted to be a garden designer, that would have been fine, too. She had very little interest in other media--clay, textiles, Legos--only drawing and painting.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:11 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Okay: just give her tons of drawing materials, encourage her to draw, and let her have fun with it.

There have already been several comments to that effect. I can tell you that in Chuck Jones' autobiography he credits the easy availability of materials as the single most important factor in his childhood that got him on the path of being an artist. (Something about his dad having had all these failed businesses and the reams of stationery that went along with that.)

Don't pressure her or try to structure her art time that much (a single art class at a time certainly wouldn't be harmful).

Don't get hung up on the quality or nature of the talent she is displaying right now. That can completely change by the time she reaches high school, change again by the time she graduates high school, and turn into something else by the time she finishes college. Let her explore.
posted by furiousthought at 3:40 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am a first grade teacher, and I would say nurture your child's talent if it's something that brings her joy regardless of whether or not she is precocious or exceptionally talented. A lot of research shows that becoming great at something is the result of an enormous amount of practice coupled with perhaps that initial "talent" boost. Thinking "I am innately special at this" can backfire on a child if they come to see practice and hard work as a sign of inferior skill. Thinking "I can produce really cool art when I look carefully and get absorbed in this task," on the other hand, is healthy and productive

Comparing her to her peers is probably going to slow her down in the long run, however it good it feels to be the best. There's always someone out there better than you and a comparison mindset will probably take some of the pleasure out of it anyway.
posted by mermily at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would let her take the lead. Maybe take her to a really cool art supply store and let her load up on pens and paper. Other than that, I probably wouldn't do a ton more at this age for fear of what has been mentioned before which is fear or trying challenging things just for fun.
posted by dawkins_7 at 4:20 PM on October 24, 2012

Do your absolute best to ensure that whatever your daughter does, it's because she wants to do it rather than because you're paying for classes for her or are pushing her to do it. I honestly feel that my parents were misguided in their treatment of my little talents and precocities when I was a kid: the minute I showed the least aptitude for something, they were all over it, proclaiming me a natural genius, and signing me up for classes, which rapidly became a chore. Don't do that. In contrast, the one thing they never pushed on me, and in fact somewhat discouraged (cooking, which they felt was too much of a gender stereotype for me to pursue) is something that I got pretty good at over the years and which still gives me a lot of pleasure.
posted by peacheater at 4:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let her explore other forms of creative expression: music, dance, ceramics come to mind. Let her make books that she illustrates- she can dictate the stories to you until her writing catches up with her drawing. She might even enjoy calligraphy. Give her plenty of blocks and other three-dimensional building toys. She's old enough to start using basic carpentry tools. She can also start to learn some simple sewing.
posted by mareli at 4:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Congratulations! This is great. Just wanted to comment about this below:

Putting her into a general arts and crafts context doesn't seem to be the right thing... I already hear her being self conscious about how much better her drawings are than her peers' when they do art stuff in school (which isn't often, as I said.) (I told her that doing her best is not the same as bragging and that she should never hide her abilities, but I'm not sure I'm messaging it right.)

Don't let this stop you, really. I hear you with the concern about being unegalitarian, or encouraging her to be "separate" or different from the other kids. But part of life, and an important lesson she will have to learn, is how to manage others' reactions to her talents. Maybe it is better she get experience with now. Whether she becomes an artist or an architect or a surgeon, she may have some skill that others don't have at some point. She can learn early on that being talented doesn't mean being snobby or ungracious, it just means cultivating what she has and being herself.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:57 PM on October 24, 2012

Maybe chat with her teacher to find out if there are other kids saying things about her drawing. I remember a very lovely girl who was musically gifted in my class and was bullied because it wasn't the 'right' kind of music - she loved opera and singing, so she just hid her talent.

You could guide your daughter in what to say when classmates comment on her work, from just a simple thanks, that's nice of you, to saying "Hey, you drew a blue car that flies!" in response with enthusiasm so they feel recognized. The anti-praise article linked above is very very worth reading and makes a difference. Kids respond so well to recognition of their ideas and effort rather than evaluating praise.

Deep Space Sparkle is a children's art teacher blogger who writes with a lot of love for her field - maybe drop her an email and ask your question?

And try to separate the art from the competition if she's shy. Some kids enjoy the attention and competitive aspects, but my talented but socially anxious gymnast son quit last year because he had grown to hate the competitions. Her reaction to her classmates makes me wonder if the scrutiny for standing out might end up making her dislike art if it has to be shared outside her family or an encouraging art teacher at this point.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:11 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks all for your ideas. We actually do have a pretty good local art museum that I'll contact. And I like the idea of collaborations with us, her parents -- her dad is actually a comics writer, so maybe we can create a project together, something like that. The comment re availability of materials is interesting too -- I did recently order her a crafts table so she'd have a designated space, but I'll make sure there's plenty of paper around.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:16 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was a gifted draughtsperson at a very early age. Encourage her to keep drawing, to not be embarrassed about it, to carry a sketchbook with her and draw whatever she wants. Help her to realise it's part of her own true self and it's legitimate.

One thing that is very hard, is to transition from child prodigy to adult responsible normal person. I would say, give her confidence in herself and what she wants to do, and protect her against ideas that she's somehow unfairly privileged by having this great gift. Normalise it as much as you can: this is you, this is what you do do, great, go for it, it's fun, it's normal, this is part of 'you' so go for it. She needs resilience so make sure she sees any criticism as due to a different point of view and not an indication of any personal failing. It's hard to be different! I believe it's not so much about competition ("better than") but about being who you really are. Good luck in supporting your daughter with that.
posted by glasseyes at 11:20 PM on October 24, 2012

As someone who was a gifted kid, just make sure you don't turn something she loves into work. Art classes can be fun, but if she just loves to draw, let her draw! At 7 too much structure can be stifling. Keep her up to her elbows in paints, pens, pastels, watercolours, paper, card, canvas, whatever. Make sure she never has to worry about "wasting" her paper or her pens on experimentation.
posted by Jilder at 12:24 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Per Jilder, I think this is where exposure to other art forms and doing more open-ended camps and programs that offer a choice of various creative activities can be really helpful.
posted by Sara C. at 6:24 AM on October 25, 2012

I was similarly gifted/inclined as a kid and my parents enrolled me in additional summer art classes for years. It was not so much about fostering the talent--the biggest thing I got out of it was a place where I felt recognized and with people with similar interests. Kids need to feel good at something at any age. And my art teacher was a super badass mentor. That encouraged me and buoyed my interest in art more than anything else at that age. So you don't necessarily need to change her primary school--find an outside activity or class that she can enjoy her interest with similarly-minded people.

As long as she's enjoying it and encouraged by it, I don't think you can really go wrong. Good luck! :)
posted by ninjakins at 6:39 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make sure she never has to worry about "wasting" her paper or her pens on experimentation.

Ooh, towards that end - also make sure that she isn't worried about making a mess. I mean, she'll need to clean up after the mess, but messiness during the creativity is okay and freeing.

I think things shook down for me that way with cooking, because my childhood friend had an awesomely patient mother who would take a very deep breath and let us alone in the kitchen while we cooked, turning a blind eye to the fact that we were getting flour everywhere and probably setting off the occasional smoke alarm (she was always elsewhere in the house if we got into TOO much trouble), whereas my own mother was always kind of hovering and gently reminding us to wipe up spills right away. My friend's house had way more freedom and cooking felt more like a big huge mess-around playground than it did a must-do-everything-exactly-right thing at my house; we got really inventive and daring and experimental, and we learned from our mistakes. And even though I didn't make food a profession, I still absolutely love it (I'm considering a transition into food writing actually). And I do clean up after myself, but when I'm in the middle of things I do still make a bloody mess.

Mess in the middle of creativity is good - let it happen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

So I was a kid with enormous natural drawing ability. My family was deeply supportive. I had all the supplies and art classes and attention I wanted. I was nurtured.

Of course that was wonderful - but as your daughter grows older, please let me make one suggestion. Don't focus on the art to the exclusion of any other interests. I found myself in the position that I was the "arty girl." There was no question if I was going to art school. No question of doubt that I was going to be an artist! It was assumed by my family and friends and teachers. I never even asked myself if there was anything else I might want to do - until I was halfway through college and realizing that, you know what? I don't want to be an artist. Having natural ability does not mean you are morally required to make use of that genetic lottery win.

So my point is, yes, do nurture and support your daughter in her art. But also nurture her in anything else she shows an interest in as well, even if it is something she has no natural talent in. Natural talent is less important than drive and passion.
posted by Windigo at 8:12 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

« Older How to tell parents you're not ever coming home?   |   Please help me to see if I'm overreacting or not..... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.