Art attack: unlock your child's creative spirit
Your child comes home from primary school carrying a misshapen lump of clay covered in blotches of paint. Do you: a) Ask: “What is it?”; b) Exclaim: “That’s amazing; you’re fantastic!”; c) Suggest: “You can do better than that, surely.”; d) Laugh and say: “Don’t worry, I wasn’t any good at art either”?
If you don’t choose b) you might want to rethink your response, because you’re in danger of snuffing out your child’s creative spark.
“You should be telling them everything they do is amazing – it was creative, it took time,” says art teacher and mother of three Gillian Blaney Shorte. And if you haven’t a clue what it is? Encourage the child to talk about the project and you might glean what the artwork is in their eyes.
If you have responded to your child in any way other than b), the chances are you have “issues” with art. Like me.
I never recovered from a damning verdict on my artistic abilities back in first year at secondary school. Among the A and B grades on my summer report was one D, for art, with the teacher’s comment: “Talent is limited”. It’s no wonder I shied away from hands-on art after that – right into parenthood, unfortunately. It is one of my big regrets that I didn’t encourage my children in their early years to let rip with paint, play dough, pastels and clay. Life always seemed too busy to cover the kitchen table with newspapers and dig out paint, pots and brushes.
I was intimated by artistic parents who always seemed to have the right materials at hand and knew how to encourage their children to transform them into eye-catching art to adorn the kitchen walls. And inevitably, when scanning classroom walls for my sons’ work, I started with the least-accomplished looking. Sure, what hope had they?
But for children, art is about the process, not the end product. And it’s a vital part of early childhood development.
“I think all small children are equally creative,” says Jole Bortoli, founder of Art to Heart, which advocates children’s rights to creativity and imagination. “What closes them down is the approach taken.”
Parents have a terrible habit of inadvertently trampling on children’s creativity through hasty judgments, intolerance or interference. Artists working with children identify the three big barriers to art at home as:
Mess: the house-proud don’t want paint all over the kitchen table or clay trodden into the carpets.
Time: frenzied lifestyles allow little space for open-ended art sessions.
Fear: parents feel inadequate and don’t know where to start.
For parents, a first step is to recognise the barriers they put between children and art. After that, what else should they be doing at home to allow children, from birth onwards, to express their artistic side?
Don’t use colouring-in books for a start – well at least, not for art. It’s a key message Bortoli would like to get across, not just to parents but teachers at preschools and primary schools.
“The thing of staying within the line is good, but it is a fine motor skill,” she explains. “Don’t confuse that with art.”
When an “art” session consists of colouring in a giraffe, children see the outline they have been presented with as the only way of drawing it. “Much better to say ‘you draw your own giraffe and colour it in whatever way you want’.”
She works with The Ark, the children’s cultural centre in Dublin’s Temple Bar. This summer they organised art workshops where parents were invited to stay and work with their children, rather than dropping and running.
“It was beautiful, very moving,” says Bortoli, who will be leading children’s art workshops at this weekend’s Art Source in the RDS in Dublin. She thinks that, often, what stops parents doing art with children is the belief that there is a “right way” of doing it, and they don’t know what that is.
Either they won’t get involved at all or they interfere too much, she says, whereas the best idea is to sit down and let the child guide you. “Let them lead and if they are stuck or don’t know what to do, just gently help them out.”