12/11/2013 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ask the Art Professor: How Do I Help My Daughter Reach Her Potential in Art?

"My daughter is 14 and has not had any training but we think she has talent. What advice would you give for helping guide us to help her reach her potential in art?"

I started to demonstrate artistic promise from a very young age. According to my mother, I could draw before I could talk. My parents felt that I had potential, but they knew absolutely nothing about visual art. Despite their lack of knowledge, they did two things for me that were critical to helping me develop as a young artist: (1) they let me take art classes outside of school; and (2) they bought me all of the art supplies that I wanted.

I had art class in my public school curriculum, but my parents also supplemented this experience with Saturday morning classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where I studied for a number of years. By taking a class, I had the opportunity to build relationships with peers who shared the same interest in art. I learned just as much from my peers as I did from the teacher. Having the chance to see how other students dealt with the same assignment and art materials opened my eyes to an incredible range of artistic approaches. In addition, most of the instructors for these courses are working artists themselves. Working with these teachers was significant because they made the idea of being an artist real. You can read all you want about artists from textbooks, but nothing will substitute being able to meet and work with a professional artist when you are still young.


If you have the resources, send your daughter to a pre-college program at an art school when she's a sophomore or junior in high school. I still look back on my experience at the Rhode Island School of Design Pre-College program as one of the most formative experiences in my career. It was just a six week program, but it profoundly transformed my life. Being on a college campus working in professional artist studios and facilities was exhilarating. I was taught by teachers who took me seriously and understood where I was coming from. Most importantly of all, I was with literally hundreds of other students who shared the same passion and interest in visual art. Coming from a public school where I was the only art "freak," it seemed like a dream come true to have all of these people in one place.

Provide your daughter with all of the high quality art supplies that she wants. When I was ten years old, my mother once gave me a professional artist portfolio case and a stretched canvas for Christmas. Those art supplies felt so real and professional, and I cherished them. Professional art supplies are more costly than student grade supplies, but they are vital to having a positive experience. Many student grade brands, especially paints and brushes, are so poorly made that they can actually be a hindrance, making a simple task difficult. Instead of ordering online, be sure to take your daughter with you to the art store to purchase the supplies. Some of my best memories as a child was going to the art store to pick out new art supplies.

Already, you've taken the most important first step by providing your daughter the moral support to make her art. By giving her the opportunities and means to create art, she will be able to determine on her own whether this is a path she would like to pursue.

Ask the Art Professor is a weekly advice column for visual artists. Submit your questions to clara(at)