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What a middle school art instructor can teach us about creativity

In a very special Dribbble Video, we go back to grade school to revisit Art Class with teacher Wendy Brasher. Wendy has been teaching middle school art for nearly 30 years now, and has some important words to share about creativity, letting go of our egos, and making the world a better place through our art—because we could all use a creative pep talk every once in a while.

For all of the teachers in the world who take the extra time to nurture our youth, everything you do matters. Thank you. Video shot and edited by Matthew Kadi—a lifelong student of Ms. Brasher who’s friendship with her began in a 1994 drawing class.

Art is a language, just like learning how to read. I’m Wendy Brasher, and I have just begun my 29th year teaching middle school art. It’s the best job in the world. Well, it’s the best job for me.

Inspiring confidence through self-expression

I think it’s important to know how to express yourself visually. Not everyone in my class is going to be a cartoonist or an illustrator, but everyone in my class is going to see art in the world, and want to make art in the world, whether it’s for themselves or on a bigger scale.

If you are making a mark on a piece of paper, you're drawing.

I spend the first month of class really doing silly things to get their confidence up. You know, we do the blind contour and everybody laughs, and we’ll draw lefthanded if you’re right-handed, or we’ll draw with both hands, and just kind of get everybody’s confidence up—thta if you are making a mark on a piece of paper, you’re drawing.

When you get to about middle school, those awkward teenage years, that self-confidence kind of comes up and a lot of times kids put that block up. In education, we call it the effective filter. If your effective filter is up, you’re not learning. You’ve got to be comfortable and confident, and then they could learn.

What’s the greater impact of art?

The art room is a place where you experiment and you make messes. Art is part of humanity, and the more experience you have with the visual arts or the performing arts, the more your humanness comes out. I think if we had more art in schools instead of less art, we’d be a little more human—the world would be a better place.

If we had more art in schools instead of less art, we'd be a little more human—the world would be a better place.

How do you give feedback to growing artists?

You’ve got a broken ruler and a fork, what are you going to make? It’s that creativity that, at first some kids are just so hesitant, and other kids are just diving in.

When I tell them, “Hey, that’s good,” sometimes that ego in them is like, “No, you’re just saying that.” I’m like, “No, it’s my job to tell you if you’re doing good or not.” If they’re not doing good, I kind of say, “Let’s try this again. Let me get you a new piece of paper.” If you’re out there doing your artwork, do your artwork, it’s your stuff. But, if you have a job, you don’t take that personally.

Doin’ the cartwheels

When we’re practicing and doing rough drafts, I’m telling the kids, “Look, this is the fun part. This is like running laps. This is like doing your pushups.” But then, once you get the skills, then that’s playing the game, that’s doing the cartwheels, it’s putting on the show.

Teaching art to middle schoolers

It all goes back to your happy place, and I always liked being in school. When I was graduating from high school, I knew I wanted to go into teaching. This job fell out of the sky and landed in my lap, and I’m like, “Ah, Art Teacher. That’s what I was meant to be.” I always said it was a calling, and if you don’t enjoy it, it’s too hard of a job to wing it. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.

The importance of designing in analog

You could take years of art classes, and then you’re a sculpture. Digital is just another way to respond or to create your art. There’s a lot of research, education-wise, about kids doing too much on a laptop, taking their notes on a laptop—when brain research has shown that if they have a pencil in their hand and they’re writing their notes with the pencil, it hits their memory, sticks with them longer.

Art is a language, just like learning how to read.

With my class, seventh and eighth grade, 12, 13, some 14-year-olds, they need that pencil. We’re drawing every day. We start the day with a little warmup. I swear, sometimes it just feels so good to hold a pencil and just kind of scribble. Use whatever makes you happy, use whatever gets your message across.

Making time to create

Linda Berry is a cartoonist, and I’ve read her books. The greatest advice she says is, “You’re going to watch TV anyway, so just have your sketchbook right there on the couch.”

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