A Growth Mind-set Or a Fixed Mind-set?

I’ve just finished a painting of a Tui for NZ’s annual watercolour exhibition – Splash. The painting is A1 which did present a few challenges. I generally don’t paint with watercolours on my upright easel because, as the watercolour painters among you will know; the paint will run down the page. Sometimes you may want this to happen and sometimes you need it to stay put! I ended up painting the top half upside down, because bending over the desk to reach the top is very hard on the back… been there.

I painted a light blue wash all over, except for the white areas and as I filled in the head and eye, I began to develop a relationship with this extraordinary bird. Even when it was upside down, it looked at me as if to say, ‘well, what are you doing now?’ During those familiar risk taking moments of, ‘oh, now I’ve stuffed it up’, it looked at me with its quizzical, direct gaze, as if to say ‘well?’ and I would say to it, ‘I’ve no idea, what do you think?’

I recently read an article on the growth and fixed mind-sets in the human brain. In the fixed mind-set we are afraid of failure, don’t take risks, we stick with what we know is safe and stay the same. In the growth mind-set, we acknowledge that we don’t always know, embrace the idea of failing, take a risk and grow a new part of ourselves. There’s a sense of being open and present. When I begin a new painting, if I go with the fixed mind-set, and believe me I’m tempted, I will give up very early on in the process, in fact, I would have given up long ago.

I believe that our right hemisphere (if you are one of my students, you know the one) is inherently growth oriented and the left (you know this one too!) is inherently static. All of us use both unconsciously at different times. We can consciously engage the growth mind-set, which is more challenging to the left hemisphere but generally more rewarding. It will definitely grow your artist and probably your life.

I’m currently working with a group of artists in the life studio. We draw and paint from a model, whose intention is to sit or lie still for anything up to forty minutes. The people who do this work are my heroes! Life drawing is a wonderful compliment to my home studio work which is mainly done from photos. It does feel different, I don’t evaluate the work as I do it – there’s no time and yet I don’t feel rushed. I am much more likely to automatically engage my right hemisphere, which activates a deep focus, where my mind feels clear, my body relaxed and there’s no concept of time passing.

Because the right hemisphere is non- judgemental, it’s a kind of on going courageous process, courageous in the sense that you are unaware of the need to feel safe. You just do one thing after another and your awareness is focused on the simple act of observing and responding in the moment. I think it is this aspect of mind we engage in the growth mind-set.

For me, the thing is learning to employ that growth mind-set consciously, more often in my day to day life – I think this is where creativity meets mindfulness…