“My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” 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 70 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, teachers, 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?

12 Replies to ““My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” The power of affirmation.”

  1. This essay brings back memories of the same type of affirmation I received from family members and friends, particularly in the early formative years. I do not think I would have found my photography talent had it not been from the encouragement of my mother and a high school teacher. Nor my speaking talent had it not been a “well done” from my pastor after reciting a Bible chapter in front of the congregation as part of a girls study curriculum for 10-14 year olds (I was so nervous and scared). It is so important to continue giving such affirmation to others as a means of uplifting them and it is a way of expressing our gratitude for it being given to us.

    1. Thanks, Brenda, for sharing stories from your childhood. Isn’t it amazing how a simple word or sentence, said at the right time, can have an oversized impact on our lives. I want to use my voice to encourage and bless others. Take care, Don.

  2. So right !
    Whomever is teacher (family, school, pastor, coach, leader, etc.)
    life’s lessons remain with us best when they edify.
    At the least we are all teachers by example.
    I love the essay.

  3. Don – With the recent passing of my Mother, Markaleeta Stevenson, at 102 years of age, it has caused me to reflect on all the things she did for my Sister and I. We were introduced to art, music, cooking, church, God & our Lord Jesus Christ, gardening, housework, chores, doing well in school, being a neighbor, being kind, thoughtful and considerate and having consequences in life for things we did. She encouraged us to take music lessons, art classes, be in Boy Scouts & Rainbow Girls, band, play sports, be involved in our school and community and to take care of ourselves and others which eventually prepared me to assist in taking care of my Father, Mother and SIster as their health declined over the past few years. My life has been filled with many different experiences for which I must Thank my Mother and Father,, Harry & Markaleeta Stevenson, for taking us on so many adventures and activities and encouraging us in all the crazy things we wanted to do as children and into our adult lives. The memories of my life don’t include one specific “kiss” to become something noteworthy, but a whole lifetime of “kisses” with my Parent’s time, effort and words of encouragement and support in all the activities our they took us to and sat through during our lifetimes. The impact our parents, aunts & uncles, grandparents, teachers, neighbors and others leave on those who they are blessed to care for, raise, teach and mentor does make all the difference in the world for that young person whose life is touched by the encouragement, kind words and thoughtful gestures which help mold them into who they will ultimately become.

    Thanks for all the weekly stories you share with us weekly, they are a reflection on all those who invested some “kisses” on you which have made you the person you have become today.

    Jay Stevenson

    1. Thanks, Jay, for sharing about your mom and dad. I wish I had met them. What wonderful parents you had, giving you opportunities and responsibilities throughout life. I know you miss them. There’s no substitute for a good mom and dad. Thanks for our friendship. Don

    1. Barbara, it’s so nice to hear from you. I have fond memories of our time together at Eastwood Baptist. Both girls are in town and we have three grandchildren. (Grandchildren are God’s reward for not having killed your own.). I hope you are well. Don

  4. This writing underscores an ethos I have that there are three things we can never get back in life: time, opportunity and the spoken word. Once they are gone from the clock, the presentation or the lips, they can’t be retrieved. However, your point on the power of those words is well-taken. I believe many competitors are motivated by the negative words of others; I am. When those of my past tell me I can’t do something, will never accomplish something, it’s like throwing more logs and gasoline on a fire that’s burning. Like you, I prefer words that uplift, affirm and encourage.

    1. Thanks, Dane, for taking the time to share your thoughts. Through years of research, positive reinforcement has proved to be better than negative reinforcement. It is more powerful and sustainable. But…like you say, when someone says you can’t do something, it’s nice to prove them wrong. Thanks for being my friend. Don

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