Step Away from the Coloring Book

Painting without paint!

Ok show of hands—how many times have you (or someone you know) walked through a gallery of contemporary art and thought “my three year old can do that.” And then under your breath whispered, “is that really art?” It’s a perfectly valid question, but not one that has an absolute yes/no answer. At a training session I attended last week, Jeffrey Grove, the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art here at the DMA said that to him “art is anything that makes you question your assumptions.” It doesn’t have to move you or change your life—although it can. It doesn’t have to make sense or explain something—although it can. It does make you stop and ask a question…even if the question is “is that really art?”

So what does this have to do with kids? It’s all about a little thing we call open-ended art. Have you ever looked at your child’s art and thought “what is that?” If so, hooray!! In the programs and activities we design for children here at the DMA, our goal is always to allow children the freedom to explore materials and express their ideas. Some may produce amazing masterpieces; others may find more joy in seeing how much paint they can get on their hands.  Just as children go through stages of physical development, they also go through stages of artistic development. (To read more, this website is an excellent resource). For really young children, art needs to be an exploration, another way for them to communicate, an experience.

I know it’s tempting to want to have something beautiful a four year old painted that you can frame and hang on the wall. And that very often does happen, but it shouldn’t be the reason we do art with young children. Our mantra needs to be “process, process, process.” So yes, I am not a big fan of coloring books. Or having kids try to recreate famous paintings. What Ido cheer for is challenging children to try out their own ideas and see what happens. A blank notebook and a set of pencils will allow you a glimpse into your child’s mind and creativity much more than the latest Pokemon or princess coloring book.

In that spirit, here are a few other ideas I learned from a recent conference of early childhood educators.

  • Try painting without a paint brush—use Q-tips, pompoms, toy cars, feathers, bubble wrap, toothbrushes, combs, marbles
  • Mix up your media—see what happens when you draw with a crayon, then do watercolor over it
  • Find your art materials in nature—pine cones, leaves, twigs, dried flowers, acorns, moss, seeds
  • Draw on different surfaces—cardboard, sand paper, newsprint, wall paper, wrapping paper
  • Make your art BIG—work with large pieces of paper, old cardboard boxes, the sidewalk

Most importantly–have fun!

Posted by: Leah

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Filed under Art Projects, Children’s art

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