How does a child become highly skilled at painting, singing, dancing or drawing, without significant input from teachers? One thing my son Andy and I learned early on was the importance of imitating the skillful work of others and falling in love with the creative process.
This is a drawing that Andy did when he was about 8 years old. He loves to draw, and has been doing it on his own, since he was three. Like Andy I drew for enjoyment several hours a day, since about the same age. No teachers, no art courses, just pencils, paper, free time and encouragement from parents to draw whatever we liked.
For both of us the mastery process was completely self-directed. Andy would spend hours with his favorite dinosaur books, copying the pictures, then making little action scenes or story books. At his age, I would trace and imitate my favorite cartoons, then return to drawing in my own style, creating similar kinds of pictures.
What I remember noticing fairly early on was that every time I traced or imitated a drawing beyond my present level of ability my skills improved. I observed the same thing with my son's drawing ability. I never told him how or what to draw, just encouraged him to copy the pictures he liked.
What we both learned is that a more advanced artist doesn't need to physically be there in the same room to be your teacher. Careful observation, patience, practice and imitation of their work is all that is needed. As skills improve, and you've learned from many different artists, one begins to develop their own unique style.
In reading about how other artists developed their skills it appears that many discovered the same process. Bob Dylan listen to folk music endlessly, and imitated his favorite musicians. Van Gogh began by copying paintings by others, most great writers were usually first voracious readers.
Countless hours of practice and engagement seems to be the key to mastering what one loves. In my case, I would draw for about 2 hours every day from age three. Andy did that as well. That's 60 hours a month, over 700 hours a year. By the time he and I were 5 or 6 years old many saw us as "born artists." But few realized how much practice time we were putting into it.
Think about whatever it is you do extremely well. Were you born with those skills or did you practice and enjoy doing what you love for countless hours? Think about great violin players, singers, dancers, athletes, scientists. No one was born with such skills, they all required an incredible amount of time and practice. Without endless hours of engagement, mastery never happens.
The point that I feel is important here is that no one knows what a child can or cannot do, if they don't enjoy an activity and haven't put all those hours into it.
Love and enjoyment are an essential part of the learning equation, they are absolutely crucial for high levels of skill and mastery. This may be what Mozart was trying to tell us when he said, “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.