I Hid My Art: Why Shame Often Kills Creativity

Just a few years ago, I would have been mortified for people to see that picture (above).

When I was in high school, I decided not to go into Advanced Art, because I was scared. I had created a few pieces that won awards and I felt like my art couldn’t improve. I was frustrated that I had things in my mind that I couldn’t get out on paper or canvas. I was worried that I would never win a contest again. So, I gave up. I put my paints away. I set my charcoals inside a desk drawer and never looked back.

Still, I couldn’t hide that part of me that I wanted to make a world with my own two hands. I would sit in a lecture and doodle on the side of my paper. I would sit in a sermon at church pretending to fill out a handout while I drew cartoon characters. I told myself at the time that it wasn’t “real art.” I chose the word “doodle” over “sketch” or “illustration,” because I wasn’t a real artist.

Fast forward past college and into my first year of teaching. I pulled out a pencil and paper mostly out of curiosity. I wanted to see if the artist had truly left or if he was simply waiting quietly. I found myself sketching a picture of my wife. A week later, I framed it and gave it to her as a “bonus” Christmas present — unlike the real one (jewelry) I had given her. I had fallen in love with drawing again, but I still couldn’t see it as a gift.

Fast forward again a decade, where I helped kids paint murals. I told students that they should take risks in art. I told them that their work was worthy of displaying publicly. Yet, I still hid this part of me from most of the world. I had moments when I added a doodle to my blog (though the moment my audience grew, I took them off) or I used a doodle in a cartoon where the focus was on a joke. Still, I didn’t want to show anything real. I didn’t want to show anything that actually took effort.

However, things changed one day as I sketched out a main character, Wendell, in a book that my wife and I had written for my kids. I meant for the pictures to remain private. I remember calling them “doodles,” because I wasn’t a “real artist.” I wasn’t an illustrator.

However, as I thought about the story I was telling (about a non-magical kid with a hidden talent), I realized that I was hiding. I was scared. I was worried that my illustrations were nothing more than badly drawn doodles. So, I decided to post my drawings publicly in places like Twitter, Instagram and my blog. I still hesitate to call myself an artist, but I refuse to hide my work anymore.

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John Spencer

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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