Children are born with the natural ability to “make art”. Without ever having received formal instruction they will still alter their environment in a way that reveals the creative mind all humans possess. A stick is used to scribble in the sand, stones are arranged in pleasing patterns, flowers and leaves are strung on grass, a pencil is picked up and a wall decorated.
Children – like adults – use art to answer the challenges of their lives. Art is a medium to contemplate and resolve the essential questions of who we are, why we are alive and what is expected of us.
In a child’s life this can mean: What do I do when I am bored, feel tension, do not understand what is expected of me, but also: how do I communicate that I am happy, that I saw something amazing, remind my parents and caretakers that life is an adventure and that I ask you to be in the moment with me?
Teaching art in a classroom can strengthen the confidence a child needs to hold on to this amazing skill beyond childhood.
Keeping in mind that art is not an external experience, but is rooted deep inside each child, we understand why it can be confusing and discouraging to children if art is presented to them as belonging to an inaccessible adult sphere. Data of artist’s biographies are of little relevance to a second grader.
Instead we can talk to them about the origins of art and ask them about their own experiences as artists. A wealth of beautifully illustrated children’s’ books can help the teacher and the parent in the classroom (or at home) to do so in words that relate to the children’s’ need for a coherent, honest and joyful encounter with art. Artful children’s’ books acknowledge that art is relevant in the child’s own sphere. Asking children to talk about their own art always leads to fruitful discussions and true insight into the nature of artistic expression.
In order for children to develop the ability to love, they need to be loved first. In the same way it is true that children are enabled to acquire a true appreciation of the cultural products presented to them as “art” by a sincere recognition and appreciation of their own natural authority as artists. It is in this sense that the German artist Joseph Beuys stated that every person is – also – an artist and that Picasso reflected on his own artistic journey with the words: “It took me a lifetime to paint like a child”.