cThe mean art teacherEvery once in a while, when I’m sketching out a diagram to represent an idea, I find myself apologizing for my lack of artistry. Fortunately, my job doesn’t require much by way of drawing skills, but I do have to sketch the occasional diagram or flow chart to illustrate a concept.

Sometimes when I find myself in this situation, I reference my junior high school art teacher. I was generally a good student, but not in this class. The art teacher told me he’d pass me under one condition: that I never enroll in another art class again. The way I tell it, it can be a funny story, meant to make fun of my lack of artistic skills– which have never been a point of pride for me anyway.

But I wonder. What is the impact of a comment like that coming from a teacher? Granted, some people have more innate ability than others, but everyone can grow. What would a comment like that sound like had it come from a math teacher? “You’re no good at math. Why don’t you give up and focus on something else?”

True, I had no innate talent for art. But what are some other ways my art teacher could have approached the situation? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Focus on teaching skills. Not everyone is destined to become an artist, but everyone can improve their drawing skills and move toward basic competency. Skills can be learned.
  • Defining art more broadly as creativity. Maybe drawing isn’t everyone’s preferred medium, but that doesn’t mean artistry can’t be expressed in other ways. Some people are creative with words, with ideas, with people, with structures. Find that creativity.
  • Enjoying the act of creating art. Instead of feeling shame over the results, learning to experience joy in the creative process. This is the equivalent of singing in the shower– who needs an audience when expression is the goal?

How do we handle similar issues in our churches? Do we have such an emphasis on excellence that we discourage people from participating?

The mother of a teenager was talking with the worship leader after church. Her daughter had been playing the violin for several years and had expressed interest in playing with the worship team at some point. The mother mentioned it to the worship leader, but was uncertain if her daughter was at the appropriate skill level yet to play in that context. The worship leader, who didn’t know either seeing as he had never heard the girl play, came up with a brilliant response: “She’s always welcome to come to the rehearsals on Wednesday nights. She could play with us and see what we’re doing.”

I think of a phrase commonly used by the Vineyard group: “Everybody gets to play.” There’s something to be said for that, isn’t there?