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whose artwork is is? Process vs product

With Kerry Blake, Nominated Supervisor

Art. When you hear that word, what do you think of? Does a picture of the Mona Lisa come to mind? What about the sculpture of David by Michelangelo? Because of the nature of art, each of us has our own idea of what it means to us on a personal level. For children, however, art is something they DO…it is a process.

Painting, drawing, sculpting are all processes used to create true art. If you give a group of children paint, will their paintings all look identical? Of course not! Art, in its truest form, is an expression of our feelings, ideas and emotions. Therefore, art is unique to the individual.

The Benefits of Process Art in the Early Years

Art fosters sensory perception, provides the opportunity to represent and symbolise experiences, offers children a chance to experiment, create, and build, strengthens children’s ability to think and make decisions, and helps children make sense of the world around them. Children have a natural tendency to create. We see this daily in their play, and art is one medium through which children can satisfy this need to create and express themselves.

Process Art is highly developmentally appropriate for the preschool classroom, and offers a number of benefits:

  • Process Art nurtures social and emotional health, reinforcing such skills as relaxation, focus, self-esteem and emotional sharing.

  • It helps to build such cognitive skills as comparison, prediction, planning and problem-solving.

  • This form of art encourages the development of fine motor skills like painting, cutting and gluing.

  • Process Art may also help to build the skills of verbal expression and language if the child chooses to discuss his or her work.

Supporting the Process Art Experience

Howard Gardiner, a well-known education theorist, writes that "artistic learning grows from children doing things: not just imitating but actually creating, whether it be drawing, painting, or sculpting on their own." Children's art creations stand for objects, feelings, or ideas. We see this at the earliest stages of a child's drawing and painting. A line may represent the ground, the sky, a smile, or a frown. A dot may be used to designate a place or direction. A scribble may mean an idea or a feeling.

The most important rule for guiding children's art activities is that the process is always more important than the product. "Process" means allowing children to explore art materials with freedom without the pressure to copy a model or stay in the lines. Process is experimenting with paints, watching the mixing colours, and feeling the textures. Process is gluing various sizes, shapes, and colours of paper together to create a collage. Process is freedom to experiment and enjoy the feeling of creating without being concerned with the outcome or the product. Process is creating something that is uniquely theirs, and not a copy of someone else's.

Art activities in the early years are about what the child is learning through the process, not what the finished product looks like. If you are concerned about what the end product looks like, you are thinking old school and need to let go of this thinking. Ask yourself “whose art is it anyway, mine or the child’s? Focus on what the child is learning through the experience, not on the final outcome. In fact, a great test to see if your art activities are focusing more on the process and less on the product is to look at the end result. If someone whispers to you, “What is it?” then, guess what…it is process art!

This also brings up an important point about art…never ask a child, “What is it?” They assume, because they put their heart and soul into it, that you already know. Instead say something like, “Tell me about your creation” or ask, “What do you like best about what you created?” This opens the door for them to share their ideas behind their art and is a wonderful way of building expressive language skills.

Does this mean that you can’t ever do a “craft” project where the outcomes all look similar? Well, of course not. It just means that different types of activities or projects should have a different purpose. Some activities are more about putting together a craft project that involves both following directions and utilising fine motor skills, which are both important skills.

When providing creative activities for your child, Nominated Supervisor, Kerry, suggests asking yourself questions such as these:

  • What skills do I want to reinforce through this activity and is there another more open-ended way I could achieve this goal? (e.g. cutting, using glue correctly, following directions, etc.)

  • How will children feel if, in the end, their craft does not “turn out right?” If the answer to that question is a negative feeling, then the craft is probably not a good idea. Choose something else.

  • Will the children be able to do this activity on their own or will I end up doing it for them? If you are doing even some of it, then it is not the child’s work. You should ask yourself what is more important - that the end product looks how you think it should look, or that the child did it all themselves, experienced a great sense of accomplishment, and learnt new skills during the process.

  • Am I doing this craft because the children want to, or because I want to?

“At Skippy’s, we highlight the importance of process art by showcasing the children’s work,” says Kerry. “Displaying process art is a great way for children to feel proud and for parents and caregivers to see their creations. We also post children’s artwork on Storypark and include information that explains what the art activity involved and the process the child went through to produce it.”

Art is beautiful. Art is unique and special. Art fosters learning. Make sure the art activities you provide for your children invite them to be free to express their ideas, thoughts and emotions in any way they desire!


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