drawing with tate 02

Life after art

Back when I was about four or so, I loved to draw. I distinctly remember asking my mom to draw pictures with me one afternoon, so we sat in my room at the bite-sized table and chairs, the sunlight striking diagonally through the window and onto my bed. And we drew.

My mom drew a simple picture of a field of grass with an apple tree and a sun, and I copied her. She drew the bed of grass horizontally across her paper, so I did the same on my own. I waited until she was done with the brown crayon, and then I drew my own tree trunk, placed on the left-hand side of the paper, just like her. I remember feeling a bit bummed that her apples looked more like real apples than mine, so I lowered myself closer to my paper so that I could focus. I wanted my apples to be as good as hers.

This is one of those flash memories, where I’m sure the drawing event took about ten minutes, but from my kid perspective, it lasted all day. It was a drawing day.

I took the prerequisite art class in elementary school, just like everyone else, and it was a class I looked forward to all week in my early years, but not so much as I got older. From my perspective, I didn’t have a “natural talent” for art, so it felt like too much an effort to get my toothpick sculpture to really look like the Eiffel Tower. I’d rather read. That was my forte.

You will be creating the rest of your life. You might as well do it on purpose. -Matt Appling

I left elementary school, and I don’t think I’ve taken another art class since. But I always loved to create—still do love to create (and I love to soak up the blessings of others’ creations as well). I find inherent satisfaction in the rhythm of sewing, in writing, and in decorating our home. There’s something soul tempering about an afternoon spent creating…just because. Life moves slower, I can better think, and I’m just not so crotchety afterwards.

matt applingMatt Appling is an elementary art teacher, and he regularly witnesses the gradual shift inevitable in many kids, starting from five-year-olds unencumbered by fear of rejection or lack of skill, to sixth graders who rush through art projects so they can proclaim, “I’m done!” and move on to something else.

Matt, like Picasso, believes that all of us are born artists, but that the challenge is to stay an artist as an adult. And his new book, Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room, makes a strong case of this truth, reminding adults that deep down inside, we are all, indeed, artists. We were all made to create. And it’s not too late to find and reclaim the long-lost artist that lives deep within.

Life After Art

With chapters that discuss stuff like the challenge to stay an artist as an adult, how our entire society suffers from an epidemic of lost creativity, the beauty of constraints, and that failure is an option—even a necessity—to becoming creative beings once again, Life After Art is a gem. Matt also tells comical stories about his students, and the corresponding sweet truths he’s learned from these young people. I think about this book hours after I set it down.

Somewhere along the way, children learn that failure is something to be feared, rather than to be learned from and embraced. -Matt Appling

It’s a short read, but it’s packed with truth. It’s a shot in the arm to get out there and be the creative self you KNOW you are. You really are. Stop saying you’re not.

There is eternal value in creating; it shouldn’t be an afterthought to enjoy only once we pay the bills and do the dishes. Deep enjoyment of life requires being the creative self you were meant to be. Art class lasts through elementary school, and then we too often move on to More Important Things.

But there is life after art. We need to live it.

What will you create today: beauty or ugliness? -Matt Appling


Matt is giving away a copy of Life After Art to ten Simple Mom readers! Simply leave any comment on this post, and you’ll be entered to win (I’d love to hear a memory from an art class you’ve taken). If you’re reading this via email, please click over to the post and leave a comment on the blog.

Oh, and head here to read chapter one for free.

This giveaway will end tomorrow night, Friday, July 19, and we’ll announce the winners soon after. I hope you win!

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. This sounds like a wonderful book! Even if I don’t win a copy I definitely think I’ll be buying a copy.

  2. Ellen Wilson says:

    As a fellow elementary art teacher this book seems intriguing.

  3. I just remember 7th grade art class. The teacher put a ball in the center of the room that had lights shining down on it from different angles. We were then told to draw the ball–so I drew a circle. My teacher told me to draw the shadows. I couldn’t see them. I still struggle with that idea to this day!

  4. Sounds like I need to read this one!

  5. This book looks amazing! I would love to read it!

  6. I would love to read this book!

    • Melissa C says:

      I still love coloring. It’s my favorite thing to do with my three year old! I’m not good at drawing but I can color.

  7. My wife would really love to read this book.

  8. Sounds like a great read!

  9. Jennefer says:

    I think I may need this book….

  10. Sounds like a refreshing perspective, would love to read this.

  11. My mom is an elementary art teacher… this sounds like her!

  12. The book sounds so good! I’d LOVE to read it!

  13. My mama was in college when I was 9-12 years old. She minored in art, and I loved it when my dad was busy and she had to take me to her evening art classes. My favorite was learning to work the wheel in ceramics because the teacher was always kind enough to let me join in. I hate that I’ve lost some of those skills!

  14. Oh wow, I think I need this book in my life. Sounds like a life changer.

  15. I would love to read this. I always loved art class in elementary and middle school, but for some reason I didn’t really take any art classes in high school until I as a senior. I was too shy to ask for them for some silly reason!

  16. Looks like a good book. Would love to win.

  17. Dawn Sparks says:

    I don’t have a specific memory but I define myself as “not artistic”. If I end up homeschooling our kids, I’d love a resource to help me get over that and pass on a love of art to them.

  18. I can’t remember where I first heard about this book, but it’s been on my amazon wish list for awhile. I’d love to read it.
    I remember LOVING my elementary school’s art classes, but always feeling annoyed that I could never finish a single project during the class time. It wasn’t something you could ever go back to, and I never had the amazing art materials at home (colors, sure, but I can’t remember ever having paints at home). One of my favorite projects was weaving different colors/sizes of yarn through a strawberry pint container, and using it as a catch-all basket. It was so pretty, texture-y, and bright.
    Sarah M

    • That time limit is a catch-22 for me as a teacher. It’s always the same kids who have trouble with the time limits. 🙂 I hope you’ll be encouraged by the book, and you may find that even those annoying time limits have something to say about our lives.

  19. Wendy Halverson says:

    This sounds terrific! Makes me want to grab some crayons right now and doodle. I hope I win!

  20. Chrissy says:

    My kids go to a charter art school and my wife teaches there, as well. This would be a wonderful addition to our library. I am continually amazed at how easily my children ease into an art project while I always hesitate and underestimate myself. Somewhere along the way we lose that ease and confidence in ourselves as artists. I cannot even recall an art class memory; I cannot remember a time that I ever though of myself as “good” at art. I would love to discover that ease and creativity in myself.

  21. This is something I’ve been struggling with and thinking of a lot lately. My life is so academically focused and I find joy in playing, or creating, on the piano to express myself but I can’t compose. So what do I do? My favorite memory is painting a white rose in canvas in art class. But then I compared myself to “natural artists” in the class and was discouraged.

  22. Chantelle says:

    My favorite memory is painting a white rose on canvas. But then I compared myself to “natural” artists in my class and was discouraged.

  23. Art was my first love. I hate that I haven’t picked up a paintbrush or piece of charcoal in years…
    I always loved the art room because it felt so relaxed. Big tables covered in paint splatters instead of rigid little confining desks… You just felt like you could breathe easier and dive into creating something…

  24. There are many ways to be an artist! I would love to read this book.

  25. I like art, but my daughter likes it better. I need more push to get creative.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  26. I feel such walls come up when I try to create. I want and need to discover what they mean and break them down. I know I am a delightfully creative person once I make it out of this artificial box I’m in now!

  27. Lorraine says:

    Sounds like it could help me get back into creativity. I took my first art class in 4th grade. I was hooked. I took art through high school. I’m not gifted but I do alright. I wanted to major in art at college but succumed to the family pressure that said “what would you do with an art degree.” I married, had 2 girls and moved states. I remained somewhat artsy until after we started adopting. We kept adopting and I have 15 children including the homemade ones. I have 11 home now. Their special needs, and homeschooling have consumed most of my time. We’ve delt with some tramatic issues and been all consumed. Needless to say my creativity has hit rock bottom. I miss being creative. In art. Homeschooling with this many kids, I have to think creative, but it’s not the same as creating art. I miss it dearly. I want to do watercolor. I want to do anything. I just need to get my hand held in the process of making it a piece of my life again. I am trying to incorporate it into our homeschooling. But even that is different than being in the zone myself. That creative spirit. Simple. Real. The day to day stuff just seems to suck all my time and energy away. Does the book address this? I am very curious.

    • Lorraine – it sounds like you have devoted quite an enormous amount of creative energy to your life! (Whether you have called it “creative” or not.) I just want to applaud you for what sounds like an incredible career of raising a family. I do address the fact that there are always pressures placed on us – some are just the way the world is, such as time, money, etc. We can’t get rid of those. But there are plenty of pressures that we place on ourselves, are artificial and maybe can be removed.

  28. I was just remembering last week how much I used to sketch and I haven’t done it in years. Would love to read the book. Maybe I will buy a sketch pad this
    week ?

  29. Sounds like a great book!!

  30. I think I always feared not doing well in Art class, but I always enjoyed it! I remember my early elementary and middle school art classes best because I loved the teacher. He really liked the good artists, but always seemed to like me too even though I didn’t think I had that natural talent. I was too fearful once I got to college to go to the school nearby home and major in photography because I had to take 2 drawing classes for the major. I feared failing. I just don’t feel like it was a good day if I haven’t created something. My husband and I often talk about feeling like we can’t use our creativity often enough in our current phase of life. Both of us feel really energized when we are able to use our creative side. I would love to read this book. I would love to get inspiration to be more creative each day and even be creative in how I can be creative.

  31. I always had gone memories of art class, I loved using “real” art supplies. I hope to instill a love for creating in my own children, and would love to read this book.

    • I hope the book helps you with that, Katie. I think you’ll find that your kids are natural creators – of something. Half the work is already done for you. 🙂 We just have to help our kiddos hang on to what they’ve already got.

  32. This book sounds great! I was pigeonholed as Uncreative as a child, and used to dread art lessons. I remember my one art success: making a clay butter dish in the shape of a cow. It was far too big but my parents loved it and I was so proud of myself. I actually now live a very creative life, and find it sad so many kids are ‘put off’ at school out of fear.

  33. I think that’s a book I’d like to read. 🙂

  34. Melissa says:

    Reading this post reminded me of my Year 8 art teacher. After telling him at the beginning of the year that I was hopeless at art, he encouraged my creativity and set out to prove me wrong. I would love to read this book!

  35. This loss of creativity and fear of failure is so on my heart right now. I will definitely have to read this book!

  36. I watch my 7 year old gleefully attack a blank piece of paper with paint while my 12 year old looks on wistfully and says, “I’m not good at drawing…” It breaks my heart. I would love to read this book.

  37. I painted on canvas for the first time this week while making an art project for my bathroom. I loved it! It reminded me of when my sisters and I used to sit and paint for a big chunk of the afternoon when we were kids. So I have started looking up more projects to do that have some structure, but still have creativity!

  38. I love the idea of art, looking at art, even being friends with artistic people – but, alas, I have no artistic talent. I would like to see how this book articulates the idea of art that I find so inspiring.

  39. I was never encouraged to be creative as a child, but God gave me three artistic children. So this is a GREAT reminder to be more intentional about it. Would love to read more about how to be.

  40. Heather Y says:

    Oh my goodness, but this message just keeps turning up over and over and over again for me recently. Perhaps someone is trying to tell me something? Would love to read this.

  41. Holley d says:

    I love the concept of this book, and feel like busyness so quickly compromises creativity, at least for me anyway.

  42. I remember the day I finally learned to draw a straight line with a straight edge in a graphic design class. Those were the days when they first started making boys take home economics and girls got down into the shop classes. I think that is when art became real world…..This book looks great!

  43. Heather says:

    I recently took an art class with my daughter. At first, I didn’t realize it would require adult participation and, when I did, I became incredibly nervous and self conscious. However, once I talked myself down and stopped worrying about what my sketch would look like, I truly enjoyed myself…in a way I haven’t experienced in a very long time.

    This book sounds great!

  44. I’m married to an artist who is never happier than whilst painting. I want my kids to be as happy as that in their lives.

  45. Loro Cortright says:

    Would love to read this book!

  46. I figured I had little artistic talent after my second grade art teacher ridiculed my drawing of a cat because the cat didn’t have whiskers. I’ve since found many other creative outlets: writing, sewing, publication design to name a few. I still don’t draw very well, but all my cat pictures have whiskers.

    • I can’t tell you how many adults have told me they discovered (or were told) they couldn’t do art – in art class. That really bugs me. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter if your cat has whiskers. You can, should and *deserve* to be creative. 🙂

  47. Tiffani says:

    This sounds like a book I must add to my list. We try to do a lot of art around our house, and I help teach some children’s art classes, so this is any area of interest to me.

  48. Stefani says:

    Wow. This book seems really great. I never think of myself as an artist because I am a terrible drawer/painter. But I love creating! I drew house plans (for fun) into my twenties. Now, I scrapbook all of our pictures. My daughter, on the other hand, loves drawing. My boys are still a little young, but maybe this book would even help me to encourage their creative side–in whatever “art”realm it is in.

  49. Marion Schleusener says:

    I recently told someone that I love beauty, but don’t really know how to create it, so I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty others create. She told me, quite emphatically, that I could to create beauty and shared with me possibilities for doing so. I would appreciate more encouragement in this area!

  50. wow, this book sounds good! 🙂

  51. I sm not an artist, but in my job I frequently draw little stick figures to supplement instructions. 🙂 Does that count?

  52. Stephanie Williams says:

    This sounds like a great book! I’d love to read it to help encourage myself and my kids to be more creative.

  53. As a former artist- I would love to read this to prevent what happened to my love of art from happening to my kids.

  54. I haven’t taken “art” classes since jr high. I have taken craft classes though, like pottery and primitive rug hooking. There’s something about being a grown up that gives us permission to create, as long as we produce something. Kinda sad.

    I’m inspired to take some paints and canvases to the cottage next week – and not just for the kids. Thanks for that!

  55. Looks like a great read! I will have to add it to my list 🙂

  56. Juanita says:

    ” I’d rather read. That was my forte. ” – This sentence is me! I can totally relate to the 6th graders hurrying through the art class in order to get to something else; for me it was most likely free reading time, or spelling, or math; anything other than art!

  57. meredith says:

    This sounds like a fantastic book! I’d love to gain perspective on keeping creativity going for myself and my family.

  58. I need to read this book!! The creating of art was ruined for me in k-12 which is probably why I am so commited to the importance of creating as an adult – for me, my children, and my students. Can’t wait to read it!

  59. HeatherC says:

    I love creating with my kids! This sounds like a great read. Thank you for the giveaway!

  60. I onky remember one art class in middle school. I’m sure we had art earlier, but nothing stands out to me. My favorite thing we did that class was watercolors… I loved it! I moved on to music and didn’t take another art class because of it, but I’ve tried to keep doing something creative, whther it’s music, photography, knitting, sewing… or just coloring with the kids.

  61. This book sounds absolutely wonderful.

  62. This book sounds fascinating! I have always loved art class, from elementary school, all the way through college. I now have a small calligraphy business and really enjoy having the freedom to create. However, during an art class in high school, we were working on a wood carving project. I had long hair at the time, and it wasn’t pulled back. As I was leaning over my project, my hair got caught in the Dremmel tool, and it took the rest of art class and all the rest of the students and teacher to help me get it out of my hair! Embarrassing, but I’ll never forget to pull my hair back when working with tools again! 🙂

  63. Oh, I’d love to win! the book sounds great.
    I remember many wonderful times spent around the kitchen table with my mum and sisters drawing the afternoon away – could it really have only been 15-30mins in real time?!
    I’ve daydreamed about being an art teacher to high schoolers, just to be inspired and be around the creativity.

  64. I’ve always embraced the creative side of myself, but it’s centred more on writing than anything else. Just last week though, when I was crafting up a storm with my 4-year-old, I discovered a beautiful set ofwatercolour pencils I won in a Year 11 Art contest. Apparently I was the most promising artist in my grade. (I can only assume it was a particularly lacklustre group, artistically speaking.)

    Funnily enough, I remember being terrified of art class from that point on (something to do with expectations and failure, I expect).

    But rediscovering the watercolours was such a fun surprise, and I spent hours drawing, shading and blending, with no end goal in mind. It’s been years since I’ve just created for the sake of creating, and it was such a welcome shift.

    I’m also reading The Icarus Deception at the moment, and much of what Matt shares is echoed there too. This sounds like a book I need to read!

  65. This kind of sounds like a really awesome book. I remember a super cool art project in elementary school in which the teacher took ceiling tiles down and had us paint them. They remained up until at least I graduated from high school. I haven’t been back since to find out if they are still there.

  66. The first memory that came to my mind was of the one and only piece of art I ever won any kind of award for. I think this just reinforces his point that, all too often, art only has value to us if it “gets us something”. Definitely looking forward to reading his book!

  67. Terry C. says:

    I would love to read this. I remember in elementary school I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I loved to draw and I always wanted to learn calligraphy. Then I grew up and life took over. I would love to get back to that childhood feeling of the freedom to create and not feel guilty about it. 🙂

  68. This is a book I would enjoy reading

  69. HeatherB says:

    This sounds wonderful. Realizing I’ve pushed down my inner-creative but know I secretly long to create again. I used to enjoy art, writing, and photography. Now I’ve put all of these things aside for the more urgent in life. Sadly. I don’t have one specific memory of art class…just that it was always my favorite!

  70. Jenn M. says:

    About 7 years ago, I was on a small island in Maine visiting an art exhibit. I had watercolors and brushes with me–I liked to try to paint the beautiful sites on the island to take home the visual memories. An older woman at the exhibit noticed my paints and said, “Are you an artist?” and I smiled and said “Well, on days like this I like to think I am!” She frowned and said “Unless you make a living with art–you cannot call yourself an artist.” It is silly how those words have stayed with me all of these years. I never used my watercolors again. I just found them down in the basement, cracked and dried. I think the message that this author sends is SO important! I need to read it to get my groove back on!

    • You know, I had that same attitude – when I was eight years old. There’s a story in the book but I’ll save it. Needless to say, I’ve dropped the whole elite artist act. 🙂 It just doesn’t work. Apparently, the woman you remember had never heard of “folk artists.”

  71. Christine says:

    I believe this whole-heartedly. I would love to have this for inspiration!

  72. I almost can’t wait for the giveaway…want to go buy this book RIGHT NOW! 🙂

  73. This little gem is definitely being added to my reading list. Whether I win or not – it sounds like a must read!

  74. Jennifer says:

    I loved art class growing up but it would seem for me “if you don’t use it you lose it” because now the idea of art class scares me. Blank paper is VERY intimidating. 😉

  75. crystal says:

    Oh, this sounds wonderful! Putting it on my wish list.

  76. Wow! Looks like this book hits home for a lot of people, including myself! I would love a copy!

  77. I really needed to hear this! God has been nudging my heart to start painting again and this is like a small confirmation:).

  78. This is a great post. I used to love art and creating when I was little but didn’t continue as I felt I wasn’t good enough. Now that I have children, I spend time with them, drawing and making things, I have rediscovered my love of being creative.

  79. This book sounds wonderful! Music was my “thing” in school and still is, but I really enjoyed art class, too. My daughter loves to draw (thankful for the talent that was passed on from my grandmother who was an artist). It is so sad to see subjects like art and music taken away from schools. Creativity is no longer important in the minds of those dictating what our children must learn/know in school.

  80. This looks like a wonderful, inspirational book.

  81. Kate W. says:

    I was an art major in high school and continued on in college for a short time. After that it dropped off. I miss it everyday and since it seems like something to be done only when everything else is done (which as a mom, it never is), I don’t make an effort to get myself back into it. Thanks for this post. I hope it will help motivate me to make art a part of my life again.

    • Hey Kate – I hear you on the limitations that you have in your life. There’s never enough time to get it all done. I’m not saying you should shirk the work you have to do, but I think this process starts by believing that you deserve to have a creative outlet, and that you will serve your family better when you invest in yourself. I’m not trying to add another item to your endless to-do list. 🙂 But I hope you’re encouraged to do something – not because it must be done, but because it’s validating and humanizing to you.

      • Kate W. says:

        Hi Matt,

        Thanks, and, you’re right. Across the board I could stand to invest in myself a bit. I think art is a great place to start (and more than just filtering my pics and posting on Instagram). I’m going to make this a priority.

  82. Missy Arey says:

    I remember art class from elementary school and loving it, but then discovering I wasn’t an artist as I got older. I now love to quilt but still struggle to trust my color combinations based on what I was told in older art classes. This book sounds wonderful.

  83. YES. I need to read this. 🙂 Thank you!

  84. Liz Belanger says:

    What an intriguing premise for a book. I think my husband would really enjoy reading it, as would I!

  85. This book sounds amazing. Would love to share it with my son’s preschool teachers.

    My most vivid art memory: in 6th grade art class I painted a big gray bunny on a blue sky/green grass background. My teacher, in front of the entire class, said that the bunny was too fat and looked more like a blob than a bunny. The sky and grass combo was too simplistic, childish. Therefore, I had earned a “B.” I hated her and the class from then on.

    • I wish that hadn’t happened, Mandy. I go to so much trouble to make sure kids don’t criticize each other – I would never criticize a kid in front of everyone. I let the kids do the critiquing and I do most of the praising. Let that memory go – some bunnies are just fatter than others. 🙂

  86. My daughter is 5 and I have loved the excuse to sit and draw with her – I managed to retain my love of creating and hope to be able to pass it on to my kids! I’m curious to read this and see how it ties in with what I’ve been reading and thinking about how to build up kids who value determination and perseverance in themselves and can see past initial failure.

  87. Christine C says:

    My first art memory was my mom covering our galley style kitchen floor with newspapers, giving my sister and me a canvas, setting up a vase with some fake flowers in it, and all of us painting it. Hers was the best but it was so fun for all the setup and everything. Very special.

  88. I am gonna have to read this book. When I taught preschool, I was always telling my assistants, You have to let the children do their own art. It’s not about perfection, it’s about creation. If we do it for them then it is our art, not theirs.

  89. I am very interested in this book. We have a seven year old fearless creator, but her dad has a really hard time even doodling with her. Something about his art class experiences in elementary school left him convinced that he is not creative, can’t draw, isn’t “artistic.” It’s a sad (but common) state of affairs, I think.

    • That’s really common. I hope you and your husband enjoy the book and can find ways to recognize it when the same patterns crop up in your kids as they grow up. Most kids let the creative spirit go. We just have to find a way to help them hang on to what they’ve got.

  90. Catherine says:

    I don’t remember liking art class as much in elementary school, but I always thought I was good enough. I ended up taking some art classes in high school and found it was like everything else – the time you put in reflects the product.

    I spent many evenings creating in thoses years, some projects I was proud of and some didn’t turn out as I had hoped. I think those classes served me well.

  91. The book sounds great! Have to read it!

  92. That sounds like such a beautiful book. I am a music teacher and I often see the same in my students. Really hoping I win! 🙂

  93. Julia Davis says:

    As a fellow art teacher I too feel the need to encourage creativity in others. I feel it is something that is missing from our culture- the feeling that we are free to create wether we are “good” or not. I am interested to read this book to find out what the author thinks about this subject.

  94. This sounds like a wonderful book! I have good memories of art class up until high school, my last art class was in college, it was a black and white photography class. In high school I loved painting with water colors, I should probably do that again sometime. Thank you for sharing!

  95. Since I have retired from my profession in the scientific field I have become interested in…no, driven to reconnect with the creative side that I feel I have suppressed as an adult.

  96. Ooh! Sounds amazing!! I hate drawing. Do words count as art??

    • Sure do! I’m not trying to make everyone into “artists” per se. Life isn’t just about making pretty pictures. It’s about seeing our lives through the prism of creativity. But you never know, you might get through the book and feel the need to pick up a pencil or paintbrush. 🙂 This fall, I’m enrolled in a woodworking class. I have zero experience with woodworking, and I’m looking forward to making a lot of mistakes!

  97. I would love to read this book! I despised art as a Kindergardener, because our teacher wanted everything to be perfect. We didn’t have art again until 6th grade, when we had the most wonderful teacher. She made me realize that creation doesn’t have to be perfect, the joy is in the process…and then the class ended and I never took another. Time to get back on that horse!

  98. This is on my list…seems everyone is reading it! Can’t wait!

  99. I’d love to read this! And also share it with my kids.

  100. This sounds great!