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Does Art Time Make You Want to Cry?

Almost immediately after I wrote my last post, I wondered if it might sound too idealistic to some of you: the family gathered together around the table, savoring the process of making art. You’re thinking of the many art times at your house that have involved a serious level of ugly-crying (both you and the kids) and you’re a little annoyed that I’m suggesting something different happens at my house.

How Art Looks at Our House, Sometimes

That morning we did have a great time, there were no tears, no crumpled papers, no “I’m not good at art” moments.  But we’ve had plenty of those moments, too.  I have one daughter who is a perfectionist and she can get very intense when she works on an art assignment (picture a creature from Poltergeist). I have another daughter who is quick to doubt herself and she often has to walk (stomp) away from her work for thirty minutes and approach it with a fresh perspective.  “I can’t do it!” is most often heard from my son, who’s been watching his sisters draw since he came out of the womb.

Give Me Product, Not Process

In addition, I’m aware that I can be a product-led mama.  I like things to look good with a capital “G”. I loved having an art show last year to display our family’s art work.  But that part of my personality can sometimes lead me astray.  I can end up framing the twelve-year old’s work, while tacking my four-year old’s art to the refrigerator, sending the younger child a silent message “Come back later when you’ve got some ‘real’ art”. When my twelve-year old was four, everything she touched with paint was as beautiful to me as a picture in a gallery. My, how expectations can rise.

Exploring Versus Mastering

Why, then, were we all relaxed during our last art session?  The project was open-ended. It was about exploring rather than mastering. We’ve done a few of these projects lately, inspired from a book called The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul. It’s a book that I checked out with my four-year old in mind, but it’s got all of us, ages four to thirty-six, following the scent of art to the kitchen table.

We need to play with art. We need to dip a lego brick into paint and put it to our paper without any pressure to produce something worth showing. We need to dip a q-tip in paint and see if we can create a face or a tree out of dots and then laugh if the face looks like a person with measles. Or possibly, like my son, we need to get a rubber ball and see how it works as a bouncing paintbrush.

A Little of Both

Now that some of my kids are older, we’ve leaned toward a focus on art projects that develop skills. That type of goal-oriented work has produced some great art and I enjoy seeing the skills show up in the sketch books and projects they do on their own.  But there is a place for both kinds of projects.  A child (or an adult) most likely won’t want to do the skill-focused projects if he hasn’t first experienced the exhilaration of making something with his hands, and continued to re-visit that freedom and joy.

Isn’t it true for many areas that combine skill and creativity?  Think of the hard-working ballerina who also loves to dance to the Beatles in her living room.  Or the classically-trained guitarist who plays in a Rockabilly band on Friday nights. We need to allow our children to play with art, and we need to play right along with them.

If art times are stressful at your house, take a look at what type of projects you’ve been doing. Do you need to put away the “how to draw” books for a a little while? You might need to examine your own attitude toward art.  If you regularly announce to your kids “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint” then don’t expect them to have a brave attitude toward art. Do you send a message of product over having fun? Try a different approach this week.

Here’s to a great week of art!

Aimee

An artist who keeps these elements of playfulness and skill-building in balance  is Carla Sonheim.  She has two online classes coming up and I highly recommend you sign up for one and do it with your kids.   

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  1. aimee October 18th, 2013 9:35 pm

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