By Cheilaugh Garvey, Visual Arts Teacher, Grade Kindergarten-Grade 2
“Ok, kids! See you later! Have fun in art!”
Have fun in art?
Art teachers cringe when they hear teachers say this when they deposit their students in the art room. After all, it’s a break from their more “serious” learning.
There is so much more to having fun in art class or making art. Contrary to popular belief, art is serious business and not easy or always fun. In fact, it can be downright painful. It can be like CrossFit and yoga with a dose of calisthenics and water boarding at the same time. Just one glance at the masterpieces throughout the centuries will tell you that it is hardly child’s play. From the youngest children who are wildly curious and open to discovery, to the masters who forged new paths and techniques and shared provocative new ideas, artists have always delved into the realm of the unknown, working hard to achieve their visions and goals.
We need to teach students that there is often an intimidating “blank canvas” to contend with from the very beginning. It can be conquered; they just have to tame the beast as it approaches. They need to be guided to open their minds. Be aware. Look around. Be observant. To soak it up and internalize what they see. There is an art to seeing, truly, and it’s not just about staring at the ceiling or the walls. It’s calculated staring. It’s breaking down the whole into parts and asking students to use their brains and exercise the muscles in their heads and their eyes, and in turn, to translate their visions and observations to their hands where they will make these visions appear.
Art is hard work. Not only is it mental exercise, it can even be back breaking. Some art takes pure brute strength. Hammering, chiseling, wedging, weaving, drilling, stretching canvas, lifting and carrying large pieces of stone, clay or supporting hot pipes to blow glass all require strength.
Art does not come easily, it needs to physically be pulled and pushed to create a final vision; it takes time, and often years to complete. It requires dedication and determination from start to completion. There is a responsibility towards making art, too. At times one loses inspiration, but with perseverance and grit, one forges on. Commitment is paramount.
Then there is skill. Creating a vision into a sculpture, a drawing or painting is no easy feat. Students must first learn how to make art. As they develop their abilities from scribbling to rendering, they need to be guided to develop fine motor control, how to observe and develop patience. They need to learn how to translate their visions and ideas using proportion, perspective, to correctly mix colors, mold clay and pull a print. The methods and skills for making art are just as important as the concept; without marrying them together, their ideas will never come to fruition.
“Being an artist is inherently frustrating in the sense that you always fall short of your ambitions.” (Frank Gordon)
Naturally, there is frustration in art. Navigating the creative spirit and overcoming the trials and tribulations of honing the skills and craft in order to realize your vision is probably the most difficult and frustrating thing of all…but once that has been conquered, art can be fun! The fun part is being able to express yourself, finding the inner voice that needs to be put out on paper or canvas, or sculpted from a ball of clay or captured in a photograph. It is then that art can also become therapeutic, a means of escape or to fantasize. It can be relaxing and restorative, too. Creating art stimulates communication between various parts of the brain. Every time one engages in a new or complex activity, the brain creates new connections between brain cells. Making art has also been proven to increase resilience and resistance to stress.
Not brave enough to embark on making art? The next best thing is observing and appreciating art. For an example, visiting an art museum or gallery not only helps students increase their critical thinking skills, but studies have found there is a greater empathy and better tolerance towards people different than themselves.
Only with hard work, the development of skills and continued commitment can art even come close to being “fun”. So, take art seriously!