"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What is Process Art?

He was ready. I gave him a tray, a paper, and a paintbrush. Next came what he was really waiting for. I set the bowl of shaving cream, glue, and pink paint in front of the 16-month-old. He grinned so wide his eyes closed. Then he plunged right in.

The end result was a puffy-ish sort of abstract image that looked like raspberry sherbet had melted and spilled all over his paper. And the 16-month-old was pinker than he will probably ever be again, with paint up his arms, all over his paint shirt, and on his face.  It may have been in his hair, too.

It was an absolute mess. But it was a good mess.

Process art might be more easily defined by what it isn't. Process art is not coloring pages. It is not adult-directed art projects with specific steps and rules. It isn't right or wrong. These would all describe product art.

In contrast, process art is open-ended, allowing each child to explore their own ideas and make their own, completely unique masterpiece.

"[W]hile product-oriented projects could teach a child to follow directions or develop hand-eye coordination (both undoubtedly useful skills), they probably won't help a child develop the higher-level skills of curiosity, creative thinking, problem-solving, imagination, or innovation that are so important for 21st century thinkers" (Rachelle Doorley).

Until a couple of years ago, I had never heard of process art. As a teacher, I have found it much easier to implement open-ended art activities than it would be to try adult-led projects. I don't have to trace, draw, cut, or hole punch anything to prepare our art activities. I just give the kids the materials and let them do all the work!

"If we want our children to thrive in the highly unknown future, they’ll be best equipped if they can learn to think for themselves.  These higher-level thinking skills won’t develop through copying or following directions, but through the processes of problem-posing that goes along with invention and experimentation...When children have the opportunity to explore new ideas, test a theory, and iterate, they develop a strong sense of self and learn to think like innovators. And isn’t that really the point of education?"  (Rachelle Doorley)

Why do we do art with young children? Are we trying to instill impressionist or realist techniques in one-year-olds? Are we trying to create another Rembrandt? Michelangelo? They don't have that capability. (Who are we kidding? I don't have that capability.)

When these kids are little, what is more important - to learn professional art techniques? Or to learn how to explore, make choices, and approach projects creatively?

Maybe we should paint with raspberry sherbet next.

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