“Mother’s kiss made me an artist”  – The power of affirmation

Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally’s portrait. But by the time Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin’s mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up, she exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” And she bent down and kissed her young son.

In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England’s King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day, becoming president of the Royal Academy of Arts. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” 

What if she had responded differently; what if she had rebuked young Benjamin for the mess he had made with his paints? What if she had scolded Benjamin and taken away his art supplies? Years later it might have been said, “His mother’s rebuke crushed his artistic gift.” 

Perhaps his gift would have emerged either way, but isn’t it grand that his mother’s kind and encouraging words affirmed and gave momentum to his talent.

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” West’s mother’s words were fitly spoken and unleashed Benjamin’s prodigious talent in painting. 

We all possess a powerful asset that doesn’t cost us anything to dispense and it’s self-replenishing—words of affirmation. When spoken at critical moments, they are powerful enough to change a person’s life. 

I’m grateful for times when I was the recipient of life-giving words. 

  • When I was six, my grandfather saw me playing with random pieces of wood and nails and said, “Look what Don is doing; he knows how to figure things out.”
  • When I finished my year as president of my church youth choir, my minister of music wrote me a letter, commending me for strong leadership.
  • In my first job directing a church choir, a physician in the choir approached me and said, “You really get a lot accomplished in rehearsals.”

Of all the millions of statements I’ve heard in 67 years, why do I remember these three? Because they impacted me deeply and changed the trajectory of my life.

Your words are extremely powerful, especially when you’re in a position of authority: parents, grandparents, employers, persons in uniform, elected officials…use your position and the power of your words to encourage, stimulate, and inspire people.

Benjamin West painted his sister’s portrait on the furniture and floor. Because of his mother’s careful response, he would someday paint portraits of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and English royalty. 

At the top of this post is a picture of his famous painting: The Death of General Wolfe

What are your thoughts about this essay?

10 Replies to ““Mother’s kiss made me an artist”  – The power of affirmation”

  1. While getting ready for work this morning, I listened to a sermon on this very subject. We need to be careful with our words. We never know when they will make a powerful impact on someone. I was not raised in an environment of encouraging words. I pray my words are impactful in a positive way, and not to suppress, those around me; particularly my grandchildren. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Rhonda. You’re right, words are powerful and can be used to bless or curse. You’re always a positive force wherever you go. Don

  2. Thank you for posting that. What a wonderful story. I am a teacher and my goal every day is to speak at least one affirmation to each child every day. That’s not always an easy task but I try very hard. That scripture has always been one of my favorites in the Bible. God bless you for sharing.

    1. Kathleen, fortunate are the children who have you as a teacher. You will have a large and lasting influence on their lives. Kind regards, Don

  3. Dear Don,

    I am taking a few moments this morning to say thank you for your essay about words of affirmation. Thank you for this beautiful and timely reminder. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and personal experience. I was inspired and blessed through your work.

    Well done! Blessings,

    Jenny Phillips

  4. When I was a boy growing up in Clint, Texas, my mother, Jan Herring, a professional artist, would occasionally just come up behind me and kiss me on the back of my head. And she’d always say,
    “ Your’e going to be an artist one day, Billy Boy ! “
    When I was about 10, she did it again.
    I turned to her and asked how she could possibly know that?
    “ Because I am your Mother! “
    What could I possibly say in return? So I just went out to shoot more crawdads in the drainage ditch with my BB gun.
    Then one day, years after her words came true, I read the biography of Benjamin West.
    It startled me to see that I was not alone.
    I am now 75.
    And I still get that question : “ What made you decide to become an artist? “

    William Arthur Herring

    1. William, your story is thrilling. Thanks for sharing it. Choice words spoken at critical times in our lives can help shape our lives. What type of painting do you do?

  5. Dear Don, I am helping to raise my precious little great grandson who is 3. Your wonderful essay just reminded me of the importance of my role in His life and that God WILL use me to make His name great in his precious life.Thank you for this beautiful essay and reminding us that our words have power, for Life or Death. Thank you for including the beautiful painting with your essay.

    1. Susan, it must be a joy and a challenge to help raise your grandson. My daughter, who lives with us, gave brith to a girl three months ago so we have the joy of seeing her 24/7.
      Words of affirmation from a grandparent are so important. I can still remember my grandfather saying to me, “You really know how to figure things out.” and that has made a difference in my life. Take care.

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