Saturday, January 23, 2016

How (Not) to Inspire a Child's Creativity

Last week I let my son paint with some oil paints. Art has always been very important to me. I come from a family of very artistic people and my parents never withheld quality art supplies for us to experiment with. Crayola colored pencils? NO WAY. We had Primsmacolor colored pencils - the good stuff - at our finger tips as young children. And I want this for my son too, even at 2 years old. I want him to experiment with all kinds of mediums and create how ever and whatever he wants to.

So back to the oils paints.

I thought this would be a fun idea - something we could hang in his room. And then I immediately regretted letting a 2 year old paint with oil paints. Not only was this messy - like how the hell are you suppose to get oil paint out of clothes?! - but he mixed all of the colors together and the canvas literally looked like a giant poop smudge. And I might not have even minded a poop colored oil painting if there was any kind of pattern or cool splattering effect. But it was all covered in a giant blob.

A few days after letting it dry, that poop colored blob starting me in the face, I decided to make it usable. I couldn't have that hanging in his room...but maybe I could fix it. So I took my son Henry's painting and I used the back of a pen to carve out a big letter "H". Ahhh much better. Now it has purpose. Now it looks cool. Seriously, it looked kinda cool because the colors underneath shown through. So I carved it out and let it dry for a few days.

But each time I passed that big "H" my heart felt heavier and heavier. I had taken my child's work of art and made it my own. My son is only a toddler, but toddlers are smart. This says to him "I'm better at this than you." "What you made isn't creative" "Your vision of art is ugly" "Your art is not good enough" "You are not good enough". 

Henry liked his painting. He smiled when he made it. He laughed when he mixed the colors. He was enjoying being creative. He was delighting in his art. It was beautiful simply because it was beautiful to him. 

And I ruined it. 

I took a beautiful painting and I made it into something I thought had been redeemed but in turn I ruined it. How could I do this when creativity is something so very important to me? Giving my children full reign of their art experience is a core philosophy for me! How could I have done this?

And while I am sad that I took my sons art and made it into my own, I am glad it happened. 

It reminded me of what matters. It reminded me that art and creativity are vital parts of humanity. It reminded me that art is about the process, not the product. And if art only exists to please others, we've missed the point. And I never want my child to make art solely for others. I want him to do it for himself. Because he finds joy in the process. Because he laughs when he experiments. Because HE finds it beautiful. 

I decided to take a better look at his art area in our house and make it even more Henry friendly than I had it set up like before. My goal is for him to have an creative space where he has: 

1) Access art materials at his level at all times and that

2) Those materiel be appropriate for use without close supervision.

I removed all of the art supplies that were at his reach that I could get frustrated over ending up on the walls or floors: basically I only left washable materials at his reach: ultra-washable crayons, markers ink pads and stamps. If any of these get on the walls or floor they are very easily wiped away! No problem!  

I moved the sheets of paper down at eye level so he could grab one whenever he wanted. I moved all the paints, watercolors, colored pencils and other materials that needed more supervision up high so I could bring them down when we wanted to try a new art medium with careful supervision. 

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