Fixed Mindset- people are born with certain abilities, there is not much you can do tho change this.

Growth Mindset- Abilities are learned, effort and training can improve these abilities.

I've been reading the excellent book 'Mindset' by Carol Dweck, that describes her extensive research into how people learn and handle challenges in learning. Carol discovered what appeared to be two distinct mindsets when it comes to learning and challenges associated with learning. Which Dweck called the 'fixed mindset' and the 'growth mindset'. Fixed mindset people get discouraged when faced with challenges, failure or criticism, they take these things personally and shy away from harder tasks fearing failure. However the growth mindset people look at challenges, failure and criticism as a way to learn and grow.

In terms of learning and somewhat my art practice I have always thought of myself as a growth mindset person, at least in terms of realising that drawing is an ability that can be improved with practice and training. However I think my growth mindset only went halfway. There was still a part of me that thought that certain people start with a bit of a head start, that is they are born with gifts already and then improve on that. I know this now because in reading the book I could definitely relate to some of the things that Dweck listed as fixed mindset traits.

I could also see how that lingering elements of a fixed mindset have held me back in certain ways from improving, and how that as your art practice matures there is a tendency to become more fixed. That is as you grow and improve you then fix yourself on that level and fear challenging it further.

Examples of my own fixed mindset

  • Believed in a certain amount of inherent ability (or at least interest)
  • Blamed lack of proper tools for non progress
  • Mistakes or failures made me feel worthless, like I should give up at times
  • Jealous of others and their achievements (even though you know you shouldn't be)
  • Compete and compare yourself to others (and feel like crap because of it)
  • Avoid certain challenges, believing you're not good at certain things
  • Saying "I'm not good at XYZ, I never have been..."
  • Seeking perfection
  • Resting on your laurels

Examples of my growth mindset (and things I want/need to do more of)

  • Practice the elements of the work
  • You can always improve and get better
  • effort always amounts to a better end result
  • Learn from your mistakes, do it different next time and or stick with things that work
  • Enjoy effort and challenges
  • devise methods for tackling challenges, instead of outright avoidance
  • Always be competing against your past self, be better than before (always be improving)
  • Ask questions of others
  • Saying "I'm not good at XYZ yet...But I'm working on improving by doing AB and C"
  • Don't be afraid to make mistakes and take risks (as long as you learn from them)
  • Don't seek perfection
  • Don't rest on your laurels

I was recently given a really good example of the fixed mindset when it comes to art making. Someone on my Facebook feed pointed out that they dislike it when people compliment them on their art by insinuating it is a gift. They were upset because it disregarded all the effort and hard work that went into learning their craft. It is very rare that anyone is born with immediate abilities. The vast majority of people must take an interest in learning something and put in hard effort and work to progress in it. I have often pondered the saying 99% perspiration 1% inspiration. Often when we look at a successful artist we only see the inspiration, the actual idea. however we totally miss 99% of how it came about, the blood sweat and tears that went into making something work.

I am also reminded of a past student I taught. He was a young guy, not long out of high school. You could tell he thought of himself as an 'artist' and dressed and acted accordingly. Whenever I gave a new class project, this 'artist' was not able to even attempt the project. Instead he would do his own version of the project. And when I say 'his own version' I mean he would do whatever he felt like doing and pretend to relate it to the task at hand. Needless to say he didn't progress his art any further during the year. The last I heard about him, he was still creating the exact same kind of below par work and parading around town as an 'artist'. At the time I knew that a big part of his problem was that he had been praised far too much as a teen, for being an 'artistic type'. It had given him an inflated sense of himself. Looking back I can see how he had the classic fixed mindset, he already thought he was awesome, so why try. What would happened if he failed or didn't do well? He couldn't risk it. In fact I later went on to write these list of limiting beliefs to address his attitude.

If I was to teach an art class again, a major thing I would change would be to set up an environment of the growth mindset right from the beginning.


  1. http://mindsetonline.com/
  2. https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/
  3. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en


  1. Great post AW. I have been thinking about this a lot lately!


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