Introducing Young Children to Great Art

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  ~Pablo Picasso

Picasso FaceIn recent weeks, the four and five-year olds in my class have been getting acquainted with the art of Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky.  They have been shown pictures of famous artworks, and learned a little information about the artists (for example, that many of Kandinsky’s works were inspired by music).  With some adult direction, children were guided to create some rather incredible Picasso faces, and to imitate Kandinsky’s style as they painted to music themselves.  For the Picasso project, they were instructed to use black pastels to draw the outline of a face, to draw an irregular line down the middle for the nose and lips, and to add hair.  Apart from that, they were free to select their own colours and add water colour paints in any way they chose to complete the picture.  With a minimum of structure and direction, they created some images that were very striking, and quite sophisticated.

There is much debate around whether or not adults should guide children’s art work.  Is itKandinsky Creation best to just allow children to discover their own creative process through open-ended exploration?  Is it alright for children to be taught techniques and shown examples?  How much direction is enough or too much?  After what I observed in the art class, I am inclined to think that a case can and should be made for both approaches.  Children need freedom to explore, and to have their creations understood and appreciated on their own terms.  This allows adults to observe the natural developmental sequence that occurs as children explore making marks, and take simple pleasure in using different art materials.  At the same time, children need adults to scaffold the learning of new ideas, materials and techniques that they might not discover independently (or that they might not have access to).  How are names like Picasso and terms like abstract art and techniques like watercolour painting made known to children unless these are taught, and explained?

FlowersA while back, in my post “Am I an Artist?” I found myself wondering how it is that children come to perceive themselves as artists or as being creative.  I know as an adult that so many factors are involved – temperament, opportunity, experience, role-modeling, encouragement, materials, time to explore, and genuine interest in and commitment to practising and building skills and techniques.  We may not all be destined to become great and famous artists, but certainly we all have the potential to be creative, if we receive what we need and if we are fortunate enough to enjoy a balance between space and time to explore on our own, and support from knowledgeable and enthusiastic adults who open doors for us that lead to new possibilities.  When the Picasso project was completed, the children had time to draw freely.  It was interesting to observe as they returned to their comfort zone of drawing familiar things like flowers, rainbows, sunny skies and houses.  They are four and five-year olds, after all, and perhaps not too fussed over abstract information about art.  They did what the teacher asked of them, and they enjoyed the experience, and for them, maybe that was enough.  Still, from a teacher’s perspective, it was magical to see their growing awareness of what they can do and what is possible through trying something new and different, and to catch a glimpse of the artists they have yet to become.

“… lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to “walk about” into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?”  ~ Wassily Kandinsky

This entry was posted in Activities to Enjoy, Arts Advocacy, Creative Art, Curriculum in Early Childhood, Exploring Creativity, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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