Practicing and viewing art builds one’s abilities to achieve in a variety of academic disciplines. So why is it that today, in the United States, art is on the verge of extinction in many school programs? It is treated like the flowery but ultimately trivial cousin of math and science. But art and science are not mutually exclusive! It is critical that we acknowledge and spread the word that there is indeed a correlation between art and academic achievement. And don’t forget that making art for the “simple” sake of creating is equally vital in early childhood development—art projects foster imagination and resourcefulness while introducing children to both their own senses and the relationships between things.
As a mom with a background in art history, I try to infuse my daughter’s every day with visual stimulation. There’s no escaping TV, iPhones, computers, or tablets—images are already a daily feature in our children’s realities. So, why not nurture their understanding of the visual realm by engaging in simple but profoundly effective activities? When your child learns to cut with a pair of scissors, or paint with a paintbrush, she is training her muscles and mind to write. When she carefully selects colors to make a finger painting, she is engaging in decision making, while exerting her own independence and becoming aware of her own inclinations. And as she places one form or color alongside another, she is examining the relationships between things. Finally, as she steps back and assesses her creation, she might not only feel a sense of pride but also begin to realize the emotional capacity of colors and shapes. She may not yet be able to verbally articulate her psychological response to her work, but she is responding all the same. She will eventually recognize the world as a place brimming with imagery, imagery that is not to be ignored or accepted blindly, but rather critically evaluated.
With your children, lead and partake in the following mind-opening art project. It is suitable for all ages, and if you don’t have children, consider doing this with your friends or family members.
- Gather friends and family for an art experiment. Gather your children (or friends) around a large table set up with paper and crayons, colored pencils, or paint. Together, decide upon a subject matter that you all wish to illustrate. For example, you could choose to draw a tree surrounded by flowers, or a house in the woods, or a starry night sky. Any subject matter will do—just be sure that you’re all on the same page, and can envision the subject in your mind’s eye.
- Create individual expressions of the same subject. Spend thirty minutes each drawing or painting that subject—you are not creating one work of art together, but rather individual expressions.
- Share your art. Share your work with each other, and explain to each other why you fashioned the subject the way you did. For example, if you colored a tree purple, explain why you were inspired to do so. Take notice of the different results. Very young children are likely to create more abstract, less obviously representational works, but what better way to demonstrate the subjective nature of perception—that we are all unique and beautiful individuals who see things differently because we are different?