Friday, March 9, 2012

Children and art

"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?' (Howard Ikemoto)

Children are natural artists. They take pencil or paint, clay, or an instrument, and put everything their little bodies have, into "making art". There are a few reasons for this, one is that they are not interested in judging their work. Their work is who they are! If you've ever had a child run up to you and noticed the look on their face when they proudly give you their fingerpainted masterpiece, you know what I mean. The global mind is at work- and not enough time on this earth thus far has spared them from their own critical eye. So they dive in- whatever it is, without fear- and create! Children's "play" is creation! In fact it is the very essence of what it means to create. To lose yourself completely, in allowing the art to take over. Watch how a child plays the next time and see if this observation does not ring true.

Teaching kindergarten and first graders art, and 7th - 9th graders art, gave me a clear understanding of the process that happens over these 6 or 7 formative years. Small children already have a "style". You begin to know each kids artwork because there is something recognizeable in all of their works. It might be the way they use bright paint, the soft way that they color, the bold design decisions they make. These things are already imprinted at this young age. And they are excited! Excited about creating! About sharing their work with others, seeing it in the hallway.
 By the time these kiddos enter 7th grade, a huge metamorphisis has taken place. The same kids have many times stopped doing any kind of art. They have usually decided that there are a couple of kids with a lot of talent who are "artists", and that they do not fall into that category.  Getting over the fear of creating is the thing you must address first and foremost with this age group, or you will get nowhere. That means making sure they have a lot of success at first and get up the nerve to try something new. Art goes from being fun and exciting and stimulating ; to a scary and vulnerable place of self criticism.
Thankfully, these preteen aged kids start to understand that they can find that childlike place again when they immerse themselves in art if you give them the opportunity. And the longing to do it has never dissapeared, it's just been snuffed out somewhere along the way. It's the same for 40,50 ,and 60 year olds- they come to lessons wanting to find that place they loved, but they have forgotten how to get there.  That is really all my job entails; to help them find their way back, to ignite the passion and fun of creating, wherever that may lead. When they remember that they still have the ability to "play", to lose themselves in the process of the artform without judgement - when they realize the freedom they have had inside all along- they won't ever leave it behind again. For more on creativity and how to be more creative, visit