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Are You Teaching Art For The Kids or Their Parents?

Are You Teaching Art For The Kids or Their Parents?

Those of us who enjoy teaching other artists what we know (and I’ve never met a real artist who doesn’t want to share what they know!) sometimes have the blessed one-on-one sessions with an attentive mentee, but other times do the mass approach in an after school environment. I recently had a disagreement with a self-avowed expert in the “art club” scene about the caliber of fine art she thought she offered by correcting the kids’ paintings before their parents saw them. And she fussed that I wasn’t. I’m not so bad of an artist and I’m not so bad of a teacher – but I’m really bad at listening to criticism from anyone who knows less than I do about it. Read on: I’m curious to see if you agree with my position…

“As I walk around helping one or another – three more are begging (out loud) “Can you start this one over for me?”… “Can I start over on the back??”… “Is this good???”… All of these kids are well-loved and slightly under-trained in politeness at home. They are exuberant. I am THERE for the one I’m helping, and it’s never enough; with big art club classes, there is never enough time to bring any one kid to perfection if they are not talented enough to be getting toward it themselves.

crafty style greyscale kids art

cartoon-like, monotone kids pastel

Unrelated student example

This older child is clearly able to draw the composition (no color imagination though). Did the instructor teach the ability to draw? No. She did do a nice job of limiting the palette. Orange, white, and grey. Cartoon!!

Our mission is to make our kids’ art clubs enjoyable, and a healthy environment for art enthusiasm and growth. Not all of the kids in the club are capable – fact. What are you gonna do? Those of us who teach these classes basically are flying around most of the time correcting, dotting, helping point out color choices, and ALWAYS encouraging the blossoming art eyes and hands. I know that I train, teach, cajole, instruct, and sometimes admonish.

At the end of the day- do the kids feel they got a good job done? Yes. That will always be my ruler for success in art club classes.

Isn’t that everyone’s, really?

You know what? There are browns in source photos of white owls! And there ARE blue highlights. I “teach” young eyes to look and to paint/draw what they see. Just making a grey and black owl would not be teaching them anything but how to draw what they THINK it is, and to ignore what it really looks like. That’s NOT fine art  It’s only crafty to make the owls gray-scaled and then add bright orange eyes.

Shouldn’t we, instead, help them question that common-idea that grey owls are just grey… after all, they’re not! Helping young artists see color is going to help them forever. And having a good time feeling like they did something good (even though it might not look “good enough” to a domineering adult) is much more important to their growth than walking out the door with a drawing their teacher perfected that they have no real ownership of.

Here’s a little art psychology on the subject

Basically, telling a child they can’t do it well so they should let their parent/teacher do it for them is badly stunting. Safety needs to be met, of course, but beyond that – like in art projects – parent/teachers should allow the child to develop their own sense of accomplishment- which they won’t do if made to feel that their own attempt will be a failure and that they should have the teacher/parent’s perfect handiwork instead.

I hope, if you  teach kids, you are not over-perfecting their work to impress their parents. It would be a terrible mistake to inadvertently “teach” the child that their own little piece of art is unworthy.

I correct them up to the level they can manage, (Make that beak longer-like this, otherwise it’s too short…. “blend it more, Jack, and lay in the darker brown color under the chin area because the owl would never have a plain paper neck!”, etc…), and beyond that allow their own work to stand.  And I praise them – and mean it.

kids drawing in pastel of owl

Original, creative kid’s pastel owl art

This single owl is Jack’s – he was so hesitant all through the class and he worked really slowly, and then finished at the very end and you should have seen his beaming smile after he fixed that bare paper neck. I would never have then made corrections as if – “Oh, it’s not really perfect, Jack… Here, let me fix it for you.” He had sat quietly alone all class because his sister didn’t show up (he hadn’t known she wasn’t coming). He got more out of accomplishing a finished piece on his own than anything in the world.

FYI, kids excel at their own pace. As a teacher of all ages, I know that different subjects, mediums, times of the year affect the outcome of any student’s art effort. (We professionals are just as likely to be affected!) My baseline truism is that IF they are showing up, they will produce and they will progress. Art is a verb really.  DO art. That’s how you get better, isn’t it?

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