Art was not my forte throughout high school; something about it really stuck with me and kind of scarred me.
I recall sitting in art class during those highly emotional and hormonal teenage years, and being more concerned about other people’s masterpieces, than my own. What did not help was the incessant praise that my “talented” classmates would receive, which further stunted my artistic growth and attempt. My focus became the outcome of each art project, thereby losing sight of the lessons that were being taught.
Fast forward many many years …
A few months ago I decided to set up an art room for my three year old (Sophia) and one and a half year old (Isabella) at home. Hubby and I spent a weekend putting the crib and toddler bed in one room and setting up basic furniture for the new art room. Pretty soon, I found myself at the clearance section of different stores on a weekly basis, slowly adding to our art materials. The vision of a fully stocked art room, that would lend itself to endless creativity, collaboration and artistic expression, was slowly coming together. The eagerness of seeing masterpieces on the walls, full of colors and shapes, was almost overwhelming.
When I introduced Sophia to the art room she was naturally thrilled. Suddenly, she had access to all these baskets filled with goodies, and mommy was not yelling at her for wanting to touch everything. We then talked about a couple simple art-room rules, such as keeping all art materials inside this room, and not putting anything in your mouth, and I let her free.
Before I knew it, that same day, the room was a disastrous mess; all the crayons, markers, small rocks and pom-poms were stacked on top of another, held together with expensive colorful molding clay. Some of the Wikistix were stuck on the wall and door, and the carpet was basically a Jackson Pollock piece.
I was baffled. I had just spent all this money and time putting the room together, complete with wicker baskets, an easel, and all types of loose parts you can imagine, and now it looked like a tornado had passed through here. I was not happy and more importantly, I was not in any way prepared for this; and guess what, it showed in my reaction. Little Sophia had to listen to my never-ending lesson about not making a mess, not mixing the contents of the baskets and containers, not drawing on the walls, not mixing the different colors to make an ugly brown, etc. And when I was done, I felt horrible and the questions started to flow: Why had I even set up this room? Why was I not allowing her to express herself? How was she supposed to be creative with my rules and regulations? Why does my three year old not understand that everything has a “home” in this room and it should stay in it’s home?
Thank goodness for the questions in my head! It took me a couple of weeks to fully wrap my head around the reality of this environment that I had created for my girls. I was the one who needed to adhere to some rules, not them! Rule 1: whoever is allowed in the art room is free to roam, touch, explore, discover, create as they wish. Rule 2: I must let my girls “be” when they are in this room; in every sense of the word! Rule 3: I must let myself “be” when I am with my daughters. Rule 4: Art is not an end result. Art is a process and an experience.
This time, I truly let both of them free. I have since tried my best to hold back nasty outbursts of frustration, at the sight of paint being smeared on the ground, crayon marks on the solar system poster, and markers being used more on their bodies than on paper.
So now, when we are in the art room together, I am often sitting there observing Isabella tattoo herself with her markers, Sophia draw spirals and squiggly lines on the mirrors with pastel crayons, and both of them giggling at the pom-pom cloud they have created on the ground, in which they are laying, and flying around. I am noticing how often both of the look at themselves in the mirror, while they are busy working on their art projects. I see little Isabella’s face light up every time she discovers a new basket of loose parts to dump and play with. I also see Sophia’s look of accomplishment, when she shows me how she drew a monster spiral on paper, then stuck on chunks of molding clay, and finally placed little “space rocks” on the clay, to make her own solar system! That is art. Their freedom is art. Their unfiltered self-expression is art.
And I feel good now.