Teaching The Next Generation To Be Fearless Creators


Wee Warhols, Austin txLast night I joined a group of other creative ladies for a book club. Our mission is to increase our motivation, creativity, mental oomph, courage, and to improve our lives in general.  We plan to meet once a month to discuss the current selection.  I have never been in a book club and I didn’t know most of these creative and interesting women before last night.   I was kinda quiet with my opinions.  (Here enters fear and not wanting to be judged.)

This week’s selection was Elizabeth Gilbert’s – Big Magic.  I loved this book and our discussion made me think.  A big thing I got from Gilbert’s book was -“Don’t let fear hold you back from creating.”  Well, I don’t.  Or do I?  I ‘m constantly creating, working with the kids on projects, working on Wee Warhols… so much that I have to make myself stop and focus on daily chores like feeding my family and keeping a somewhat clean house.

But I realized in our discussion that I find it hard to finish my own paintings.  I get started full force, then at some point I get scared, wonder if it is good enough, and eventually set it aside feeling intimidated, inadequate.  I have a stack of these unfinished canvases as reminders of my failures.  How can this be when my job is centered on teaching children that there are no mistakes, only Beautiful Oops?  I teach that it is about the process and not the product.  I cringe when parents try to guide their children’s work.  I carefully choose my words when talking to the children about their work.  I like to ask questions.  I focus on what the children are doing rather than what the finished artwork will look like.  This is huge to me, it is my core teaching style.

Yet-when I work on my own art I have a very different voice in my head and it’s not asking positive questions.  My inner voice is much more judgmental when it’s looking at my own work.  I have always known this was an issue for me.  I’ve always focused on realism in my art, and that is less forgiving.  I have to really struggle to make an abstract painting, fighting my urge to bring everything back in.  I bought an art journal  Mess- The Manual of Accidents and Mistakes for this reason.  The book sits beside me as clean and tidy as the day it arrived in its cardboard Amazon box.

Since I may not be fixable (although I will try), let’s focus on some things we can do to teach our children to be free with art and to not be too harsh on themselves.

Gentle Suggestions, but words I live by:

Don’t worry or even comment about your own artistic ability. This only will make kids question their own. Everyone is an artist. At a young age we are just introducing the children to the materials, so they can become comfortable with them. I try to introduce materials gradually so no one feels overwhelmed. This allows the children to explore at their own pace and get to know the materials. Once they’re comfortable they’ll be more likely to experiment with them on their own.
It is a good practice to give one direction at a time for the younger children.
It is important to offer encouragement instead of direction. “As children become confident in their exploration of art, they begin to see the product as part of the process.”  -MaryAnn F. Kohl
Dos & Don’ts For Talking About Children’s Art

Don’t Say This:
What is it?
That looks like a dog. Is that a train?
Color inside the lines (or any sort of criticism).
Draw me a pretty picture.
(For us parents, this takes practice.)

In Mona Brookes book Drawing with Children, she lists words that inspire competition: good, bad, better, best.  Words that instill frustration or fear of failure: right, wrong, cheat, mistake, easy, hard.

Do Say This:
Wow, look at all the colors you used!
Will you tell me about your drawing?
That looks like it was fun to paint.
I see thin lines over here and thick lines over there.
What would you like to draw today?
Nothing. (When in doubt, zip your lips.)
You really worked hard on this.
Ask the child to tell you about the artwork.
Ask open-ended questions. Example: What’s going on in this picture?

We don’t want to crush their artistic spirit. What we may see as a cloud, may obviously be a knight on a horse to them (at the moment).

Process Not Product – This means that you can explore art materials and enjoy what happens. You don’t have to copy what an adult makes or even try to make something a friend has made. There is no right or wrong way. YOU are the artist.

If you are interested in delving more into this topic I would suggest The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul, Young at Art by Susan Striker, or Preschool Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl.  They have been some of my best teachers and influences.

As much as I try to teach my Wee Warhols not to be hard on themselves, there is no right and wrong, it is about the experience … It is hard to unlearn and color outside of the lines.