Many children are enlivened by art-making from toddlerhood through elementary school. They embrace the process of building something out of simple colors and materials. They enjoy getting their hands messy as they coat them with paint and press them to a piece of paper. And, especially when they are preschool-age they tend to appreciate their work without criticism. They can happily marvel at their own work and that of their peers without seeing shortcomings. It seems that, in early childhood, difference—whether in artistic inclinations and abilities, appearance, or behavior—is usually a nonissue, and at times even celebrated.
Only a fraction of the children who were once brightened by art will “become” artists, and this is to be expected, since early artistic experiences prepare us for many different disciplines. But if so many of us were at one point self-professed artists, why did we largely discontinue making art? Surely, it was easier to engage in art projects when a teacher or parent arranged the time and supplied the materials. But it’s also likely that as we grew up, social constrictions and standards became embedded. We were told what we are “good at,” and if that didn’t include art, we dissociated from it. We probably became attached to a set of guidelines for art, and if our own visual expressions seemed unrefined, we may have lost confidence in our artistic competence.
There are indeed individuals who are artistic geniuses, who make art that conjures profound emotions or awe in the viewer. But those are not the only people who should make art. Forget about what art is “supposed” to look like and just play. Art making needn’t require a large canvas and easel. It can be as simple or complex as you wish. And it can be for your eyes only—so choose admiration over judgment. Welcoming art back into our lives doesn’t demand a great deal of time or effort, and doing so can renew the unfettered creator within each of us.
- Get out those finger paints. Finger painting (or hand painting or foot painting) is a great way to physically remember childhood. It requires the coming together of sight and touch, so it will energize the senses. If you don’t have finger paint and a roll of craft paper on hand, go buy some, then pour the different colors of paint onto paper plates or a large makeshift paint palette, and cut out a long sheet of paper.
- Don’t think, just feel. This is easier said than done, but finger painting can help free your mind and bring memories and feelings (literally) to the surface. Think of it as a way to meditate by focusing on your senses rather than your mind. Slather the paint on your hands and touch the paper. Try moving your hands freely, making swirls or patterns as you spread the paint. Reapply the paint to your hands, choosing a different color than you first applied. Watch as your movements transform the texture of the paint and mix the colors.
- Consider the product but also the process. When you’re done—and this could be after five or fifty minutes—look at your work. Think less about what the painting resembles, and more about what you felt while you were making it. It is those feelings that are memorialized on the paper. Remember that the process of finger painting is as important as the work it generates.