Teaching children about art

American WPA Project, blind children at work in Art Center Workshop in Salem, Oregon

This morning, when I was at the studio finishing up my glazing for Sunday’s deadline, I witnessed Pauline teaching a children’s art class. It was a school district professional development day and her class was packed. It was very interesting watching how she worked with the kids. It reminded me of my first three years in school and the importance of teaching art. I have many of my old art projects that my mother saved for me. I remember making some of them, but not all. I remember my teachers very well, though. I was about the same age as the children in Pauline’s class today. Miss Siptroth taught 1st grade. She was a wonderful teacher and I will never forget her. A tall brunette who looked a little like Jackie O but with cat eye glasses. It must really be something to teach 1st grade then…. All those eager faces. These days, by the time a child begins 1st grade, they’ve already gone through umpteen classes and are well on their way. Preschool, kindergarten, and sundry extracurricular classes. First grade was my first experience of school, however, as there were no earlier forms of education where we lived. I was primed and receptive and my first three years were very memorable. It was during that time that I began writing (really!) and started doing art projects as assignments, unlike creative endeavors my mom initiated, which were for leisure and recreation. Exposing a child to art seems to me to be the greatest gift the world can give a child. Just think of everything involved: motor skills, for hand eye coordination, listening skills, for instruction, life skills, for confidence building. Why, we have yet to even mention creativity, let alone talk about how it affects the brain. But, back to my teachers… Mrs. Wadsworth, my 2nd grade teacher, was also a lovely influence. She was a small, middle-aged woman who wore cardigans. When I think of her, I remember the scent she used… it must have been her talcum powder.

Archives of American Art – Children at a free W.P.A. Federal Art Project art class, 1939. Source- Wikimedia Commons

Miss Potts, in 3rd grade, was a tall willowy blonde. Something about her I particularly remember was that she kept an art assignment because she wanted to use it as a display for the following year. My adult mind knows her action was a compliment; however, as a child, I wanted to take my Santa Claus picture home to my mom so she could put it on the refrigerator or kitchen wall. She never even asked if she could keep it and I felt bereft. Artwork that children make is a precious thing and, though I’m childless, I love to have kid’s artwork on my fridge. Which is why I was so surprised when Gary, one of my Open Studio colleagues, told me that much of the pottery that children make at the arts centre is never picked up. I could hardly believe my ears… Pauline confirmed it, saying she thinks many of the parents just forget about it because of their busy lives. We talked about it a bit and Gary commented, saying, “just think the type of message this gives a child…that their art isn’t worth anything.” I don’t know that a child’s thinking would be sophisticated enough to think such a thought, but this does not hold true for the parents. Are some parents letting art teachers merely ‘babysit’ their children in art classes without caring about the process? What about seeing this amazing experience through by giving the child the finished work? I know all parents aren’t like this and have seen many come back with their kids to pick up their work, but I was appalled at learning that a considerable amount is just left. I guess it is about priorities and values, which is my point precisely. Art needs to be more thoroughly valued and children need to be introduced to art at a very early age. And continue to be exposed to it. As with a Liberal Arts education, grounding a child in art broadens and balances them. The art class Pauline was teaching was also about socialization. At some point, when a little boy named Thomas started acting up, she reminded everyone that people taking classes need to use their manners. So, not only were they learning that they could create something, they were learning how to act around others. I was moving back and forth between glaze room, sink and work table and could hear what was happening. Later, I overheard Pauline tell them that it is better to finish something they thought was sub-par rather than to make nothing at all. Consider that for a moment. I thought it was a very wise thing to say. She also handled a child’s insecurity by letting them know that they really could do the project, that they just needed to act. After I came home, my eyes lighted on a magazine and the first thing I saw seemed like a bit of synchrony. An ad for Outward Bound said it all:

A Farewell to Can’t.

This goodbye does not make me sad. I will not miss you. I have discovered what it feels like to do the unthinkable. The hard. The long. The challenging. You have no business here anymore. From now on, difficult will seem doable. I will see the impossible as simply not yet conquered. Farewell, can’t. You will haunt me never again. Hello, can. Welcome to my world.

Let children come to know themselves through art. Let their view of the world be expressed through art. Let them learn to appreciate art, as well as engage in it. Let them grow in this knowledge until creativity is second nature.

Archives of American Art – A young child named Joachim at a free WPA Federal Art Project art class in Brooklyn. Source: Wikimedia Commons


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3 Responses to Teaching children about art

  1. Anonymous

    Love this Jan.

  2. Pingback: Re:LIFE’s ArtLIFE Program: Empowering Youth through Art Education | ReLIFE's Blog

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