My younger sister and I are very close. She is beginning to study the same field of art I am working in and is very enthusiastic. She keeps asking me what I think of her work. Now, I’m not an expert judge, but I honestly don’t think she has much talent, at least not enough to build a career on, which is what she wants. But I might be wrong. She keeps asking my opinion, and I can’t put her off much longer. I could tell her what I truly think. Since she puts a lot of stock in my opinion, it would probably stop her from going on. It would also break her heart. Or I could lie to her in the hope that someday she might develop more talent. What should I do?
“Many times I have been confronted with a friend who wants my opinion on a piece of art that is not very good, and I’m not sure what to say. This young girl wants to be like you, her older brother, and she just might have some hidden talent that is not recognized yet. If she has the desire and determination to master this art, most likely she will be able to. As the older brother, you should give her encouragement and show her ways to improve her work without hurting her feelings. Help her along and give her advice. Progress might begin to show. As this young sister continues her work, she might realize herself that she has no talent in this field and go on to something else that she has more ability in.”
Salt Lake City, Utah
“I have a sister who is now 16. When we were younger, we would go swimming, bowling, and skating together, and she always told me that I had a definite lack of coordination. I came to realize that I couldn’t do as well in some things as she did, so I tried something different—studying and homemaking.
“I’m glad now that she let me know I don’t have the ability to do everything. True, she could have been more tactful, but I still love her for what she did.”
Jeanie M. Creek
“I have heard that only 2 percent of the population is born with extraordinary talent. Most people have to work to become good!
“Let me give an illustration: Half a century ago a boy of ten was working in Naples in a factory. He longed to be a singer, but his first teacher discouraged him.
“‘You can’t sing,’ he said. ‘You haven’t any voice at all. It sounds like shutters.’ But his mother, a poor peasant woman, put her arms around him and told him she knew he could sing. She could see an improvement already, and she went barefoot in order to save money to pay for his music lessons. That peasant mother’s praise and encouragement changed her boy’s life. He was to become one of the world’s greatest tenors. His name was Caruso.
“You mustn’t give false praise, but instead, be like this mother and find the good. Then give your sister the genuine praise that she seeks.”
Bruce Wendell Barker
Jacksonville, North Carolina
“How much talent do you need to build a successful career anyway? There are many artists with successful careers who in my opinion have zero talent. Enthusiasm and perseverance are the main ingredients for success. Do everything you can to encourage your sister. Her instructors and others can point out her weaknesses to her and offer criticism. But you, the older brother, should always be positive. I am sorry for all the times I hurt my younger sister with my ‘great and wise’ judgments. When your sister shows you her work, look for any improvements. There’s nothing dishonest about praising improvement.”
San Jose, California
“It was St. Augustine who said, ‘Falsely praising a person is lying.’ If you were to praise your sister’s work and give her false hopes that would someday crumble, you would be doing her a great injustice and would be lying. On the other hand, to openly criticize might, as you said, ‘break her heart.’ You said you were close, and from that I assume you can relate well and express feelings freely. This being true, I feel you should give your sister your honest opinion.
“Another important factor to remember in dealing with talents, occupations, and careers is that a person can do just about anything if he has the desire. A close study of many of the great scientists, musicians, and artists bears this out. What we, on first sight, may consider failure may be the foundation of great successes. If your younger sister is truly enthusiastic, you can possibly help by way of advice, tutoring, etc., and help her become proficient enough to build a career in this area. Regardless, it is important that you tell the truth in all things.”
R. E. Starrs
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
“This happened to me, and I was the one without any talent. I wanted to be a great artist just like my sister. I asked her how I was doing, and at first she just said, “Yeah, good.” Later she realized that this wasn’t what I wanted or needed. So she tactfully told me my work wasn’t really super, and she showed me how to improve.
“With my sister’s encouragement, patience, care, and great knowledge, she showed me how to draw much better. She also helped me to realize that drawing isn’t my greatest talent, and she did it because she really cares about my future. Even though it hurt a little to realize I’m not a great artist, I’m glad she told me, and I love her for it.”
Florence E. Gardner
“Appreciation for a work of art or an artist is a very personal thing and is often a matter of taste. Your sister’s work, which you don’t consider very good, may be very impressive to someone else. Encourage her to ask for comments from a variety of sources—a teacher, a friend, or someone else whose work she admires. However, if she herself feels good about her work, she should not let others’ opinions influence her too much. Motivation and hard work often count for greater accomplishment and recognition than an outstanding talent. A person with a moderate amount of talent who develops it may get more satisfaction than one who has a terrific talent and doesn’t use it enough.
“It is possible that your sister is not so much interested in the work as in getting some recognition from you. Since she keeps asking for your opinion and ‘puts a lot of stock’ in it, she might just want to know that you admire her as a person. If she really is motivated in the field of art, her interest will stand the test of time. If not, a little extra encouragement from you in other things will help your close relationship become even better.”
“I know how concerned you are about your sister. My sister and I are very close also. There have been many things she has done that I’ve also attempted, and I’ve had to face the fact that there are things she can do better than I. But the reverse is also true.
“If I were you I’d sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with your sister and tell her your feelings concerning her artwork. You know, she may just be trying to follow in your footsteps, not realizing she may have her own special talent. Perhaps you could help her find her talent. This would also let her know that you care about her and aren’t just trying to put her artwork down. Trust in the Lord for guidance and remember, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ (Rom. 8:28.)”
“As a young man in high school I was told that I would be better advised to be a plumber than an artist. I didn’t follow that advice, and with a lot of effort and some good teachers, I achieved my goal. My recently completed doctoral dissertation was concerned with the psychological process of learning to create art. I now work as an artist-teacher.”
Dr. Grant L. Lund
Assistant Professor of Art
Southeast Missouri State University