A Lesson in Teaching Art Self-Confidence from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

By Jones, Jean Ellen | Art Education, March 1997 | Go to article overview

A Lesson in Teaching Art Self-Confidence from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain


Jones, Jean Ellen, Art Education


This time it was my dental hygienist. When I asked casually what she had been doing since I saw her last, she said, "taking some courses." She went on to explain that she had completed a drawing course at a local art center using Betty Edwards' (1989) book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. "It [the book] is so wonderful," she said, "the way it makes you feel like you can draw. I'm taking a plain drawing class now. It is not as good." Her's was the most recent of dozens of similar testimonies I have heard since the publication of Edwards' (1979) first edition of the book.

Betty Edwards'(1979, 1989) popular book provides solid drawing exercises carefully sequenced, but they are not sufficiently unique to explain its success. For example, Nicolaides (1941) introduced a number of exercises similar to Edwards' and, like Edwards, used a variety of reliable scaffolding techniques such as hints and modeling (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992) . It is Edwards' careful attention to building student self-confidence that makes the difference. Even her critics (Chambliss & Hartl, 1987) have suggested as much. She shows other art teachers how to build student selfconfidence, too, if they look closely.

I began to analyze the Edwards text by accident. I was conducting a review of recent research on motivation when I was impressed by the potential usefulness of the work of Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura (1989), Bandura (1986,1991), Dweck (1991), and Schunk (1989,1990,1991). As I outlined their research findings, Edwards' strategies came to mind. She has since told me that her focus on building self-confidence was highly intentional, but her approach to building self-confidence was born from personal experience in the classroom, not the psychological research laboratory (Edwards, personal communication, 1993). Her theoretical focus came instead from neurological and physiological research concerning function of brain hemispheres.

In her book Drawing on the Artist Within Edwards (1986) continued to teach attitudes and beliefs conducive to building self-confidence while she discussed other theoretical concerns more explicitly. In this case she focused on steps of creative problem solving and related theory. She proposed that, if students approach drawing as a personal problem-solving project, they can build both visual thinking skills and problem-solving skills that will transfer to many problem situations.

Student self-confidence and motivation in general are important to teachers of all art subjects, not just drawing. Edwards' apparently successful strategies for building selfconfidence deserve greater attention than she provides. I will analyze what she has done in the context of current motivation theory, isolating principles that have emerged from a large number of research studies. That way, readers can take away generalizations for building student self-confidence that may apply to many situations. Due to space constraints, I have refrained from a lengthy review of motivation research, but for the reader interested in knowing more, I have referenced and discussed the principles briefly. Because strategies for building selfconfidence are nearly identical in both books, I have opted to cite only her more widely used Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. In addition to citing examples from Edwards (1989), I will include suggestions and illustrations of other ways art teachers can implement the same principles.

Motivation theory and research focus on the initiation, direction, intensity, and persistence of behavior. "Self-confidence" as used in this discussion is closest to the social cognitive construct of self-efficacy first developed by Bandura in 1977 and later expanded (Bandura, 1986) as it generated hundreds of studies in a variety of fields. Bandura defines "selfefficacy" as an individual's feelings of control in being able to achieve a specific goal. This is different from the construct "self-esteem" which is independent of a particular context and has proven less useful in educational theory.

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