Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Drawing - All-School Artists

The children use watercolor markers to draw self-portraits for an “All-School Artists” display.

“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”Roger Lewin

Writing this blog over the last four years has given me the opportunity to share what I have learned in my thirty years of teaching art to children. My goal has been to support the creative process in art education. Since I first started teaching, there has been confusion in separating the term “art” from “craft.” Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Art is a process of self-expression where children explore and discover, producing unique and original results. By comparison, craft is a form of imitating that produces a predetermined outcome, without the need for creative or original thought. Crafts develop manual dexterity and have their place in after-school activities and summer camps, but it should not replace art in the classroom. Each child is unique, therefore successful art projects need to allow for a wide variety of solutions. Crafts and lessons presented with step-by-step instructions or pre-made cutouts are uninspiring and lost opportunities for children to develop their own solutions–imagine all the self-portraits shown above as perfect pre-drawn circles!

Keep in step with the children's natural artistic development by planning projects that are age-appropriate. A common characteristic of children's art starting about the age of 3 is the repetition of symbols for familiar objects, such as lollipop trees and square houses with triangular roofs. Art educator Frank Wachowiak writes that well-planned art lessons teach children to expand and embellish these symbols while still allowing each child to find his or her own vision. This can be seen in the lesson Head-to-toe Self-portraits. Before starting to draw, the children observe themselves in mirrors and become aware of body proportions through physical exercises. The stick-like figures usually depicted at this age are replaced by detailed portraits that are unique and original.

By around 9 years old, children develop a prolonged attention span and are becoming capable of abstract reasoning and thinking, making them ready to experiment with a variety of materials, tools, and complex processes. However, they are also developing doubts about their artistic abilities. Art educator Viktor Lowenfeld wrote in his book Creative and Mental Growth that in this stage, the product becomes more important to the child than the process. Frustration occurs as they become aware of their lack of ability to show objects the way they appear in their environment.

How do we find the right balance between providing instruction while still allowing freedom for each child to find his or her own vision? Here are some things that I have found successful in nurturing creativity in children.

Engage children at the beginning of an art program by introducing a project that does not weigh heavily on past artistic experience, such as the lesson Gwiazdy Paper Cutouts where even mistakes can have wonderful results, and Look, Eat, & Draw which is so much fun that the children actually forget their inhibitions.

Demonstrations are often necessary to help the children understand certain processes. Be sure that they are done in a way that does not set up preconceived solutions. For example, if the teacher draws a picture of a tiger in demonstrating a project with the theme of animals, children’s minds are filled with that particular image and they become inhibited, their abilities to think of their own solutions are hindered, and worse, they often attempt to imitate the teacher’s drawing. This problem can be easily avoided by using subjects unrelated to the assignment for the demonstration.

Looking at examples and pictures can add to the children’s confidence and help them become aware of characteristic details to embellish their art work. Keep their minds open to their own interpretations by using real-life images, rather than other artists’ renditions. The exception is art history which is a great way to introduce children to new ways of working. Rather then just looking at the art work, concentrate on how the artists use their tools and materials. Have the children experiment with the styles and techniques of the artists, using materials that offer experiences as close as possible to those of the artists. For example, using thickened tempera paint in place of oil paint will give the child a basic understanding of the process that the Impressionist painters used. Avoid “tricks” that only yield similar effects to the artist’s stylealthough rubbing crayon over sandpaper will replicate the appearance of Pointillism in a Seurat painting, this shortcut bears no resemblance to the labor-intensive process of creating an entire painting with dabs of paint. When the project is completed, discuss with the children their feelings about working in the artist's style and if they would consider using what they have learned in their own art work.

Quality art lessons focus on the processes of thinking, planning, and creating. Discuss a child’s work and share ideas, but do not make changes to the artwork yourself. Answer questions and offer advice in the form of open-ended questions that allow the children to think for themselves, giving them opportunities to come up with their own solutions and make their own changes.

Complete each project before moving on to the next. This places value on the work as art and can strengthen the learning process through discussions and critiques. Most importantly, the children take pride and satisfaction in what they have achieved.

Each year, I set aside the last session to return all art work to the children. They carefully wrap their projects and pack them into large paper bags with their names attached. The parents are delighted as the children bring home the bags and carefully go through them, explaining each project and knowing that they are special artists.

I want to thank the many readers who have sent me supportive and enthusiastic comments along with the wonderful images of their children’s art work. I hope that you continue to find this body of one hundred lessons helpful toward ensuring that art remains at the core of your program.