The Creative Process
Jackson Pollock. Pablo Picasso. Salvador Dali. What might these great artists have done, had they been given modern-day inventions such as cereal boxes, rubber bands, or wallpaper paste to use in their artwork? Paint, of course! Your own young artists can combine some contemporary household items with a few products from the craft store to create one-of-a-kind works of art.
Painting is a fun, creative, and expressive art form well-suited to kids of all ages. Parents can kick up the creativity quotient by offering a variety of unusual techniques to their aspiring artists. Why simply paint with brushes, when other options abound? Why limit kids to temperas, when they can blend paints of their own?
Painting with unusual materials and methods serves another purpose as well: any preconceived notions about what the finished product should look like are left behind as kids explore the many possibilities. While adults may consider "art" something beautiful to behold, for kids, it's more about the creative process. Here you'll find tips for a successful art experience, as well as several open-ended art projects that might just entice the whole family to join in!
- Focus on the Process, Not the Product: Your child's piece de resistance may not look like much of anything to you, but his methods and artistic experimentation allow him to expand his creative thought process. MaryAnn Kohl, author of Discovering Great Artists and 15 more award-winning books about kids' art says, "Children who feel free to make mistakes and to explore and experiment will also feel free to invent, create, and find new ways to do things."
- Understand the Difference Between Arts and Crafts: Craft projects are an enjoyable diversion for many families. Following concise instructions, each participant will end up with a similar-looking product, based on a model of what the craft is "supposed" to look like. Art projects allow for creative use of materials and experimentation in design, layout, and methods. When providing art opportunities to kids, avoid confusing the two.
- Put Yourself in Their Shoes: What would you do if someone sat you down in front of a Monet and asked you to replicate it? Could you? Of course not. You'd likely feel unsuccessful and question your own artistic ability. Kids feel the same way when shown a model of what they are supposed to draw or paint.
- Give Them the Time They Need to Experiment: In her book Together We're Better, early childhood expert Bev Bos tells this story about a little boy in her program: "Arthur went immediately to the paint mixing table when he arrived at 9 AM, and at 9:55 he was still mixing. He made almost two quarts of brown paint. The next day when he arrived, he was barely inside when he announced to the whole school: 'I know how to get brown!'" If little Arthur had been hurried through his color experiment he would have missed out on the knowledge gained from self-discovery as well as his feeling of accomplishment.
- Skip the Judgment: How many times have you commented about something your child was painting, only to find that while you thought it looked uncannily like a dragon, he was depicting the family's latest campout, complete with a roaring fire? By guessing at the objects in the picture, you take a huge risk: if you don't get it right, the artist will feel that her rendition wasn't "good enough" to be recognizable. A better tactic is to say, "Tell me about your picture."
- Dress for the Occasion: Before painting, make certain that your child is wearing appropriate clothes. Hint: if you have to remind her not to get paint on herself, they are not appropriate! If need be, sacrifice one outfit for messy art projects. This will allow her the freedom to create without constantly worrying about soiling her clothes.
Another trap is the child who asks, "Do you like my picture, Mom?" Kids who constantly seek approval for their work have become dependant upon extrinsic motivation. Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes, says: "Kids don't need, or thrive on, constant judgment, even if it's in the form of "Good job!" That tends to create praise junkies, who quickly grow to be dependent on someone else to evaluate what they've done." If you must comment, don't judge the picture; learn to comment on exactly what you see. Phrases like, "That's sure a bold stroke of purple!" or "Wow, you've chosen some really bright colors!" are safe ways to express interest in your child's art.