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Process vs Product

“Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” -Picasso

I was asked a while back to advise a school about their kindergarten playground. They believed that there were missing elements that could interest different children. Honestly, they were right, their playground was lacking any incentive to play. The rules that were enforced were very strict giving the children limited opportunities to play. For example, you can't crawl (while pretending to be a dog) because someone may step on your fingers. While I was sitting there discussing the many affordable or cost free options, one teacher sat and removed from a child's picture, glued on whiskers on the forehead and placed them in the “correct” location for whiskers, making all the kids art the same.

Why is this problematic? Well, whether or not that child knew where whiskers are supposed to be is irrelevant, whether that child did not follow directions is also irrelevant. By moving the whiskers, essentially you told the child that their artwork was not good. That they were not artists.

“Asking children to complete patterned artwork or to copy adult models of art undermines children’s sense of psychological safety and demonstrates disrespect for children including their ideas, abilities, and creativity. Children who are frequently given patterns to cut out or outlines to color in are in fact being told that they, and their art, are inadequate.” (Robert Schirrmacher, an instructor with the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District)

Most of this year my preschooler came home with similar drawings of two or three small bold dark lines on a huge sheet. I always thought they were dark, that she was sad, why didn't she use more of the paper? Why was she not using brighter colors? I never asked her, I just thought about it. Now as more than half the year is over (well actually the whole year) and we are home I saw what she does. She uses all the colors to make a very dark brown or black and sometimes until she rips the paper. She glues one thing over the other instead of using the whole page, she puts stickers overlapping. Now that I think of it, all my kids did the same thing.

“The final form, the finished picture, the beautiful painting is not the goal of art for young children….the goals of art for preschoolers is to: express their thinking, knowledge and ideas; explore, try out, and create with new and different kinds of media; experiment with colors, lines, forms, shapes, textures, and designs; express feelings and emotions; and be creative.” (Schwartz and Douglas, 1967).

This does not change when they grow older. They could use 3-10 pages of art because they are motivated to do it again or try something else.

Characteristics of process oriented art:

  • There is no sample for children to follow

  • There are no step-by-step instructions

  • There is no right or wrong way to explore and create

  • The art is focused on the experience and the exploration of techniques, tools, and materials

  • The art is unique and original

  • The art is entirely the children’s own

  • The art experience is a child’s choice.

Product driven art is not a bad thing as long as you allow them their unique expression in their art and let them put the whiskers wherever they want!

As a parent there is a certain language I use to encourage and remind them that they are capable artists.

  1. Think of the what, why, and how questions when asking a child what they are creating and getting details on what their artwork is about. Don't assume you know.

    1. “ What did you make?” How did you do that?”

  1. Giving specific comments about a child’s work can help them learn, grow, and feel confident in what they have created.

    1. “You mixed all the colors and made brown… that is so cool!”

  1. Accept what the child has done. There is no wrong way of making art. There are no mistakes.

  2. Every art work a child creates should be cherished! Don't try to give suggestions on how they can “fix” it or make it better. Comment on what you like, and accept the natural artist in every child. Doing this can build a child’s self-esteem, confidence, creativity, and perseverance.

Today my kids and I did a process driven art project. I had an idea of what we were making but they took it where they wanted using the materials I put out. As you see each one came out differently. Each went through a different process. I did not do mine as theirs so they wouldn't say “yours is so nice, make mine like yours…”, also because I didn't want them to have an example to copy. In the end, they asked if they could make mine like theirs. I said yes (although I was sad inside- it was MINE, jk! Or am I?

I probably won't let them do that all the time). Read about our day here!

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