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Why You CAN Draw Well, and Why Dumb Doesn’t Exist

We all can learn to draw
My drawing on a paper placemat in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“I don’t know how to draw! I’m bad at it!”

This is a lament I’ve heard from mouths across the world. If YOU have this same complaint, listen now and listen good: You CAN draw, and you can, if you work at it, eventually draw WELL. The only thing that’s stopping you is… PRACTICE!

PRACTICE Makes Us “Smart” and “Talented”

As a teacher, I firmly believe that people aren’t born smart. Rather, people work hard and get smarter and more skilled with practice. So it is for drawing, and so it is for schoolwork, sports, interpersonal relations, traveling, cooking, and beyond!

“Smart” and “Dumb” Do Not Exist

If you use the phrase, “He’s so smart,” or, “She’s really dumb,” in front of me, I’ll fly into a fury. The sentence, “I’m bad at that,” will also send me into a rage. Not only are such statements incorrect, but they’re also downright dangerous.

With an ESL student illustrating the poem "Ozymandias"
With a summer ESL student illustrating the poem “Ozymandias”

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Assertions that cast our intelligence as fixed and unchanging make us give up on ourselves and others. They’re hugely harmful and inaccurate.

So you got a terrible grade in Math? You could just call yourself “dumb” and “not smart at Math” and stop trying… but you know perfectly well that isn’t true. You just didn’t do the homework, or just didn’t reach out to another student or the teacher to figure out a confusing concept.

It’s About Metacognition and Finding Strategies that Work

There’s no “smart” and no “dumb.” There are just strategies that work for you and ones that don’t. And if one tactic doesn’t boost your success, there are plenty more that will. Bit by bit, with practice and metacognitive reflection, you’ll build the skills!

You Can Learn to Travel, Too

How does this apply to traveling? Well, we have these fixed ideas of who we are. We say things like, “I’m someone who could never travel alone,” or, “I’m a homebody.” Actually, you’re not. You’ve not who you think you are. You are not who people say you are. You are whoever and whatever you want to be, as long as you try, and keep practicing!

You are free to buy a ticket to a place you’ve never been to and figure out later how you’ll plan. You’re free to ignore your fear and try something new, out of your comfort zone. And I bet you $5 it will end up excellent!

Thesis in an essay: My whiteboard drawing this week for our English class essay.
My whiteboard drawing this week for our English class essay.

Back to Being “Bad at Drawing”

You are not “bad at drawing.” You just haven’t tried enough! Me, I can bust out vibrant cartoons and lovely sketched faces in about two seconds because I have drawn about 10 people a day for roughly 28 years. Much practice = extra skill, and having skills in creative drawings has proven super useful, in the classroom, for presents, to help others, and for general entertainment.

So I can draw because I’ve practiced, and I can read and write quite deliciously because I’ve practiced… and I still can’t drive because I have only done it once in nine years! If you call me dumb or smart because of any of these things, it just isn’t accurate, because it’s all in progress! Want to dive into practice? I’ve compiled this giant list of 40+ art prompts to get your creativity flowing.

Now what about YOU? How do the labels of “dumb” or “smart” or “bad at ___” or “not a person who ___” show up in your life, and the lives of people around you?


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Delia Harrington

Tuesday 15th of December 2015

What a great attitude, especially for a teacher! Your students are lucky to have someone like you in their corner!


Tuesday 15th of December 2015

Aw, thanks, Delia! It works in my favor, too. When I have an ineffective teaching day, this principle means that there's hope for improvement in my practice. :)


Sunday 22nd of February 2015

Wow! This post really hit home for me. I always try to teach my students about growth vs. fixed mindsets when it comes to their learning, but I never really stopped to think about how and why to apply this to my own life. I am going to stop watching all the times I say, "I could never do X" or "I could never afford Y." You are right. You are what you think!


Sunday 22nd of February 2015

Yay! :)


Thursday 22nd of March 2012

The pictures are very artistic, but everyone has there own view in art. (: I love drawing.


Wednesday 29th of February 2012

there is 'drawing' and 'drawing'.everybody can be average at something but to produce a good work one needs to have inteligence for it.the lower iq,the more harder is for somebody to learn new skills doesnt matter if dancing or drawing.and person with low iq is not able to learn at all.scientists says to become artist one needs to have about 120 iq.and secondly- everybody has different inteligence-there is about 5 types (visual,scientific,music,logic..)which is influenced by many factors as genes,or first years after person born,thats why we naturaly inclinate to something different as childs. u should treat each person individualy but as i see your 'genius productivity' it will not be hard to satisfy you.u r far from average drawer.

shirley leung

Monday 7th of March 2011

There are some people who never study at all and they can get a better grade than someone who spend their time studying. This is probably because they're born smart.


Monday 7th of March 2011

NO! The whole point of this article is that it's about practice and effort, not being "born smart"!

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