Creativity Without Praise

May 20, 2018


Dear Music Families,

I am beginning an occasional blog that I hope will be encouraging as you parent a young musician. Here is Blog Number 1: words from a great painter, Barbara Coleman, who noticed something about the difference between helping a child become immersed in the process of art, and praising them into what we hope will be a great product:


Great art . . . needs technical expertise as well as unchecked creativity, passion, and expression. Great art seems to be created through a person. Somehow one’s ego, self-consciousness, and expectations must be released before the piece is completed. . . .

When my oldest daughter was three, she would sit and paint for long periods of time in my studio as I painted. I was thrilled with her work . . . and I told her so. I praised her extravagantly, hoping to encourage her. I would say, “Oh, you really are a great artist!” and things of that sort. As soon as I would begin this personal praise, . . . her work would become sloppy or careless or she’d just get up and leave. Clearly my praise was having an unintended and very undesirable effect on her. I was making her self-conscious and distracting her from her discoveries. She began to turn to me for praise and approval, and the possibility of self-doubt was introduced. . . . It didn’t take long to redirect her focus back to her work, once I stopped praising her and addressed my comments to what was on the page. Understanding and discovery are their own rewards.

Being unself-conscious and being willing to lose oneself in the work is vital for a child and an artist. . . . How can we free [ourselves] to learn and have the experience of creating art? As a parent and art teacher, I find that the more [we] can focus on the immediate artwork at hand, the more satisfying the experience becomes. By not emphasizing a product, and by focusing on process instead, the work becomes more successful as well. The more [we are] able to reach a state of awareness in which [our] self-consciousness disappears into the desire to participate and see what [we] are trying to express, the more the art ... can reach [us].

Barbara Coleman as quoted by Richard Rohr, Contemplation in Action 

(The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2006), 145-148.


Praise is important, but should not be the bread and butter of a young musician's music diet. As my fabulous teacher friend, Sandra K said this weekend, she has found it infinitely more helpful to replace "You are so GOOD at that!" with "Your hard work has really paid off!" 


I have some Parent Prompts that are cards of encouragement that allow you to be involved in your child's practice or performing, even if you don't call yourself musical. I will have them out this week for the taking, if you would like to grab a packet. 







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