Is your artistic progress a little fragile? Perhaps a bit stop-start? Do you get really deflated when you find it hard and don’t get the results you were hoping for? If so, it’s a good idea to start cultivating a ‘growth mindset’.
What exactly is a growth mindset?
A ‘growth mindset’ is a concept developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck.
People that practice a growth mindset recognise a truth now backed up by science:
that every time you work outside of your comfort zone, making a big effort and finding things difficult, neurons in your brain build better connections and your skills and abilities develop and improve.
Thus with a growth mindset you can start to interpret effort, difficulty and even errors, as a sign that you’re improving, NOT a sign that you should give up.
The opposite of this would be a ‘fixed mindset’ – one that’s especially prevalent in the world of painting and drawing.
That is to say that we have a level of talent or skill that’s fixed (we’re born with) and that it’s very hard or impossible to significantly improve.
If the words “I can’t draw” or “I’m not a talented painter” have ever slipped out of your lips, that’s a sign of a fixed mindset.
We can consciously change the mindset we practice.
Dweck’s research has shown that if you cultivate a growth mindset you’re able to learn from your errors, engaging fully with them, rather than fleeing from them (i.e. throwing a ‘bad’ painting in the bin).
When you practice a growth mindset, your errors stop having such an emotional hold over you and can be seen for what they are – a vital part of the process of improving.
Instead of thinking you failed, you think of yourself as not succeeding… yet.
I feel very lucky that I’ve not experienced a fixed mindset about my painting but I put that down to the fact that I learned to paint as a child, when it’s much more normal to expect yourself to be able to pick up new skills.
Learning as an adult can be tougher because our inner critic is often much more vocal by adulthood, ready to jump in and criticise our efforts.
So how can you cultivate a growth mindset?
The main thing is to focus on the process, not the end result.
And praise yourself for the effort and perseverance you’ve shown, as well as any improvements, even if they seem really small.
I recommend keeping a ‘Learning Log’ – a notebook or journal where you actually keep a track of any improvements you can perceive in your artwork, and your experience of creating them, as you go.
After each artmaking session, add an entry to your log, focusing on the positives.
And if you notice you’ve made any errors, focus on how you’re going to try to avoid making the same ones in future.
It’s also amazing to look back over a log or journal to chart how far you’ve come! Seeing your progress can reinforce and affirm your growth mindset. It can also train you to see your artwork more objectively.
Doing this can make a HUGE difference, and I hope you’ll give it a go after your next artmaking session.
Check out this great TED talk about growth mindset.
If you’d like to learn more, here’s a 10 minute TED talk from Carol Dweck on the subject:
Do you feel you need to make a shift to a growth mindset? Or is it something you already practice?
Do you now feel inspired to keep a ‘Learning Log’?
I’d love to hear from you about it in the comments.