Some thoughts on Intuitive Art & Instructional Art

August 1, 2018

I am always looking for ways in which to articulate my experiences working with children and their art, in hopes that I can more eloquently communicate the importance in allowing children to create art, with as little adult interference as possible. The children readily understand this, and leap at the opportunity to simply create, often realizing latent abilities they never knew they had. But for parents, teachers and other professionals within the caring fields, who are not present in these classes, they are unfortunately unable to experience the interconnected social, emotional and creative benefits that this approach to art can, although not always, generate. 


It is also, I feel,  necessary to give voice to what seems to be an emerging field within arts education, which is relevant to all those within the caring professions, teachers and parents alike. Project-based activities still dominate art education practices, leaving little room for open-ended and child-led learning. If not the activity itself, than the mindset is. I want to be clear, I am not against project-based activities, only when they obstruct a child's free expression. 


Restricting a child to what an adult perceives he or she can or cannot create conveys a damaging underlying message. A message that perpetuates the belief that artistry is not an extension of the self, but something separate that needs to be acquired. Yes, skill can certainly be learned, and we need instruction in order to acquire these skills, but a more perhaps fundamental creativity is inherent within each of us, and it is this that is a birthright to us all. To deny anyone the opportunity to discover their fundamental creativity, is to deny a part of someone's humanity. 


I am not against instruction, for it is necessary in order to acquire new skills, but a deeper creativity needs to also be acknowledged so that this instruction does not obstruct, or damage a person's creative identity. I have had so, so many children and teachers say to me, sometimes in great distress, that they are not artistic or musical. This changes however, when their criteria for creativity is broadened to include free, and altruistic expression, often involving creative opportunities to outreach to others, whether that is to children in the classroom, a teacher, a parent or a member in the community. 


The art children are intuitively creating has a sincere, outward-oriented, and authentic quality, which as art educators concerned with not only the child's welfare, but inner life also, we need to encourage and preserve throughout childhood into adulthood.


Adults are so accustomed in using their intellect to interpret children's drawings and paintings. For the most part it always has to be "something" and the so-called scribbles or free drawings lose the significance they had for the child whilst they were engaged in the process of painting. I would say to parents and teachers not to concretize a child's non-representational art, not restrict the experience of it by labelling it as an animal, shape, or anything else. 


We have developed a quantitative approach to viewing art, rather than a qualitative one. An approach that prioritizes critique over encouraging a safe atmosphere where each child can freely express an innermost part of themselves without fear of judgement.  


I had a parent come in after class yesterday, and told his three-year old son that his paintings were of a cucumber. His son just looked at him quizzically... I was with the young boy when he was painting, as he initially had a hard time separating from his parents, and representation of any kind was furthest from his mind. He was absorbed with the act of painting itself, and moving, and playing with colors, textures, and materials in a way that had a soothing effect, not only on himself, but others around him. He was also prolific, with me handing him paper, and paints, so that he could fluidly move onto the next peice. 


It was so beautiful to watch him, so authentic and free from artifice. He was not creating 'art' but just reconnecting with something so inherent within him, that had such obvious benefits. I half-wished I had captured this on film to show parents and colleagues that this is what we are after, for our art to help us all achieve this sense of emotional balance.  


A greater importance needs to be placed on the art that our children create freely, which includes a recognition and appreciation for the so-called scribbles, and free-drawings of our children, which are always more than they appear to be, not merely a stepping stone in acquiring skill or technique, and something that can be preserved and developed if we adults do not try to intellectualize them for our children.


Perhaps my approach is in encouraging children to create intuitively, which sometimes takes much longer to produce neatly packaged results. Yet I feel this is preferable to a child feeling forced into something that he or she will come to resent or abandon later on, as I have so often come across working in schools, and other art institutions in the USA and Australia. 

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