“I can’t draw” and “I’m terrible at art” are two phrases I hear on a daily basis in my job as a secondary Art teacher. Most of my students now know that these statements are ‘illegal’ in my classroom and if spoken are likely to set me off on a long rant about the importance of creativity for all people as a form of self expression, the skill required to become good at drawing and the time it takes to develop it.

As much as it is my job to teach the skills required to improve ability in the techniques and methods to gain higher levels of mastery in art it has also become a challenge for me to actively undo some of the preconceptions young people have when they come to my lessons. This dichotomy presents quite a demanding task, as I am trying to simultaneously encourage a feeling of freedom in art as well as an ability to remove barriers from how it is perceived.

In secondary education we have ‘core’ subjects which every student must learn until they reach year 11. These are mathematics, science and English as standard with varying others depending on the school’s ethos and vision. There are then the ‘foundation’ subjects, which are optional, such as Art, History, Business and Music. Also core to this phase of education are PE and some form of Health and Social learning such as ILS (International Life Skills). These are not examined subjects but rather intended to teach holistic matters and attitudes for a healthy lifestyle.

In my ideal school-world there would be a two-tiered approach to art education: the first I would see as something like Core Creativity. It could include any creative skill or topic as well as cross curricular links (think maths, physics and the dynamics of kinesthetic sculpture); and the second I would call Artistic Skills, in which I would teach drawing and painting among others, and an understanding of the formal elements of art (shape, texture, composition, and so on).

Certain technical skills, like drawing, are useful as a tool for thinking and processing ideas. I believe everyone can use drawing in some way, to enhance their lives. To this end, British International School Ho Chi Minh City  will be joining an international event called the ‘Big Draw’ during October, which was founded in England and has grown over the years to reach global recognition. The mission of the ‘Big Draw’ is simple: to celebrate drawing as a means of creative expression in its most basic form. We will be holding two events open to all students (whether they are studying Art or not), and hope as many people take part as possible.

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” — Ken Robinson – TED Quotes

As arts educators we hope to grow this event year on year and would like to include community events too, aiming to reach as many people as possible with the message that drawing isn’t something you can be ‘bad’ at and art isn’t something you don’t do any more because you feel it is no longer useful in your life. Rather it is the case that everyone has the right to express themselves through art in a way that is personally meaningful, whether it is through drawing, dance, kinesthetic sculpture, poetry or by talking part in our ‘30 Day Drawing Challenge’!

Recently I asked my Year 11 (Grade 10) class to reflect on what creativity means to them now and for their futures (they are currently selecting courses and options for post 16 study). I had many interesting replies, one of which I will leave you with here:

“…creativity is the foundation of today’s society. We wouldn’t have the internet if it weren’t for the ingeniousness of a group of computer scientists; we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the originality of the Wright Brothers; and we definitely wouldn’t be who we are today if all those authors, artists and actors hadn’t used their imagination and creativity to influence history and ourselves in the way they have.” – Ji Soo


Nicola Tingey

Art Teacher at the British International School, Ho Chi Minh City