It’s All About the Process: At Sunflower, as in life, some of the deepest lessons are learned by doing. This series explores the many ways we teach and learn through experience. First up: process-oriented art.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” –Pablo Picasso

What is process-oriented art?
Simply, it’s what artists do naturally. It’s what Picasso did– and van Gogh and Joseph Cornell and Michelangelo. It’s exploring and experimenting with materials and techniques. It’s following intuition, making mistakes and letting go of a set outcome in favor of discovering what emerges in the moment. Process-oriented art with children is, by nature, child-centered. It is art directed by the child (the artist), not the parent or teacher.

Sierra 2008

Art by age
The youngest children (preschool age) do not tend to think in terms of a finished product. They are totally in the moment. Art for them is much more of an experimental, multi-sensory (sometimes full-body!) experience—squishing paint, kneading play dough, pooling glue. At this age it’s not uncommon to see children, entranced by painty texture and color exploration, turning pure red and blue to purple… to yellow/green-purple… to muddy brown, using paper or the wall(!) or their bodies(!!) as a canvas. And then doing it over and over again.

As children get older (around age 7), they do begin to care more about a finished product. But they still need time and space to fully explore media and practice technique. It is especially important for school-age children to have the opportunity to make their own choices and follow through on their own ideas without judgment. Art at this age is an excellent outlet for deepening creativity and self-expression, and individual style and preferences continue to develop through the process of exploration.

IMG_4251At any age, the experience of making art is key to helping kids tap into their creativity. Not every child will grow up to be a professional artist, of course, but creativity and self-understanding are tools that children can draw on in all areas of their lives– from school to job interviews to problem-solving in relationships.

Process-oriented art at home
In a way, this is the simplest kind of at-home art project. It’s really just a matter of providing interesting materials (think different colors and textures, recyclables, treasures from nature, and basics like paint and glue, play dough, chalk) and then getting out of your kids’ way. If you decide to get into the process yourself, don’t create anything representational. Rather, follow your child’s lead and explore the materials with them, using your senses. Keep in mind, sometimes (most times) all this exploration can get messy. In that case, art can be a fantastic outside activity…

Process-oriented art at Sunflower
At Sunflower all of our art projects are about process. In Little Sprouts and Seedlings, teachers set out a variety of materials– maybe buttons or jewels, glue, yarn, recyclables, paint– which the children can approach on any level they want. Or children may choose not to approach the materials at all– that’s also okay. In Lightning Bugs, our nature art class, children do the same with more sophisticated art materials, as well as treasures gathered from nature. The idea is that the teacher never holds up a model of a finished product, and the kids get to make their own choices of colors, materials and details. The finished product that does result is unique– sometimes stunningly and beautifully so. (A bonus!)

art fence

Join us for a class
Want to try this for yourself? All of Sunflower’s classes, from theatre to mommy & me, involve lots of process! Check out our class list here.

Post by Jaime Greenberg, with Susan Caruso, © Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013
Photos © Jaime Greenberg, Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013