I’ll never forget the time I overheard a teacher say to their student, “You’re using too much green. Why don’t you use another color?” I didn’t say anything at the time, but I kept thinking to myself “Too much green? Is there such a thing as too much green?”
Prior to that time, I hadn’t given much thought to how I spoke to my students about their art. As an artful minded person, it’s easy for me to embrace and encourage creativity. To be honest, I’m often envious and inspired by the creativity children display. They’re typically uninhibited when it comes to their art, which is something the majority of us have lost by the time we are adults. As Pablo Picasso wisely said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
As adults, it’s natural to want to project our own ideas and beliefs onto children. We are their teachers, after all. I doubt that teacher was trying to criticize her student’s art. In fact, I would guess she simply wanted him to explore other colors beyond green, but how we respond to a child’s artwork is important. We should choose our words thoughtfully and, most importantly, avoid judgement.
So, how do we do this?
Well, we start by simply commenting on what we see. “I see you’ve started by making little red and green polk-a-dots on your paper.” Keep your comments non judgmental and specific. Don’t assume a child has made something, unless you are certain.
We can also comment on the way the child is making the art, rather than the art itself “Look at how you’re moving your brush slowly and carefully as you paint!”. Use your comments as an opportunity to give them the vocabulary words they may not have acquired yet. For example, you may tell a pre-schooler, “You’ve made a triangle here. That’s a great shape for the roof.” or “I see lots lot tiny lines on the bottom of your page. That gives your painting such great texture.”
The more you describe what they’re doing with excitement and without judgement, the more the child will become confident and excited, feeling free to continue on their creative path.
As the child describes their art to you, ask them questions about their subject. For example, if a child has drawn a monkey, you could ask the artist the following questions:
Child: “Look, I made a monkey.”
Teacher: “Have you seen a monkey before?”
Child: “Yes, I saw one at the zoo.”
Teacher: “Who took you to the zoo?”
Child: “My parents. My cousin came with us, too.”
Teacher: “What were the monkeys doing when you saw them?”
Child: “I remember some were sleeping, but two of them were cleaning each other’s fur and eating the bugs they found.”
Beginning a narrative, such as the one above, can help the artist recall details they may not have thought of prior to the conversation. These details may later be reflected in their artwork. In addition to helping them recall details, a conversation could help them to evaluate their own work, allowing them to make any adjustments they feel necessary, without influencing their artistic choices or making suggestions yourself.
About the Author: Kristina is a professional photographer and art educator living and working in New Jersey. She is also the mother to a one year old girl who challenges her creativity, daily.