Saturday, February 22, 2014

Some ideas on teaching art to children

I have been thinking about, and planning for, the rest of the school year for the art classes, and wanted to communicate my ideas for teaching art to children in general and also specifically for the rest of this year's classes.

Your children are great to work with!  They are enthusiastic and full of exciting ideas and I love to see the artwork they come up with!

One of the main things I try to encourage is for the student to spend a lot of time developing their skills of artistic observation:

  • Really looking at basic shapes of things, and also a combination of shapes that make up larger shapes
  • Looking at contrasts of light and shade - i.e. a light is not light without a contrasting dark next to it. Here is a great (and fun) example of what shade contrast can achieve:
  • Exploring the endless variety of tones in a seemingly single-colored object - for example, a folded sheet of white fabric has blues, yellows, oranges, greys, purples, pinks and lots more subtle colors if you look really carefully.

I encourage students to really explore their mediums (paint, charcoal etc.) to find out what kinds of marks they can make and how to make marks light, dark, strong, gentle, large, small, broken, flowing etc.  This helps them develop their own personal language (style of making art) to express their own vision (both observational vision, and imaginative vision - or what they see in real life objects and how to make it into original art).

There is a lot more to art than is first thought by new art-makers.  There is the coming-to-terms with the different mediums.  For very young students, mixing paint together to make different colors is an activity all in itself.  Understanding the different texture and consistency of different paints, working with paint on brushes and even just putting the paint down on paper or canvas is a meaningful challenge and a discovery in itself.  Paint does unexpected things and young children do and should take a long time to really explore the physical properties of paint.  To rush them through this stage of development belittles and cuts short an essential part of their creative growth.

I try to avoid too much of showing the students how to draw an object by drawing it for them, but try rather to help them see objects for themselves, in their own individual ways.  If I draw for students to demonstrate to them how to paint or draw a thing tells students that their own methods are incorrect.  This is often what the student already thinks of their own efforts, and to show them a way to draw an object in a "better" way further undermines their confidence in themselves.  Giving students my solutions to their creative problems also discourages problem-solving skills and removes an essential personal struggle that is necessary for creative growth in that student.
Even more destructive is the fact that their own developing and very personal vision is questioned.  Because my way of drawing a dog or cat or house looks to the student more like a "real" dog / cat / house etc., my way of drawing seems to be the right way, and the student ends up merely imitating my way of drawing something.  But a dog, for example, can be many things.  It can be:

There is no correct way to draw or paint a thing.  The hard work and struggle the student goes through (which ends in achievements far better than they expected) develops their own vision and helps them to trust their own judgement and to have confidence and belief in their own ideas.

I hope that in my classes I create an environment for students to explore and develop their own interests as well as being introduced to many new ideas and ways of seeing and creating.  I do like to challenge students to try new things and to push themselves beyond the level that is easy for them, and to help them make their art more than they expect it can be.  I like to encourage observation, with realism being a part, but not the essence of well-observed objects. I hope to encourage imaginative visual problem-solving rather than using ideas from others, although seeing lots of art from many difference artists is wonderful for opening a students mind to so many possibilities.

One last thought:  Famous art from the History of Art comes consistently from artists who break away from set and traditional ideas and who were determined to make art that was new and particular to their own personality and beliefs.