Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Should children go to art classes?

Today over on myLot, there was a discussion started by a mom whose seven year-old daughter wants to start attending art classes.

(myLot is a place where you can get paid to participate in discussions---the pay is not much, but I personally do it to harvest article ideas. MDE's myLot referral link.)

Now, this mother feels that it is unnecessary for her daughter to attend art classes, for she has observed that "Some art classes end up with their young students drawing the way that the teachers do." Furthermore, this mother feels that in art, there is no right or wrong. "[Art] is one way to express yourself, so attending some art classes will only stifle a young child's talent." She goes on to say that "It is different when you are old enough to attend an institution where they broaden your mind with the different ways of expressing yourself." Now, her daughter thinks that she could do with some help with her artwork and wants to learn how to draw "properly."

I do have to give the mother points, for asking the myLot community for their opinion.

And yes, I give her my opinion.

(Please note that my wife started out as an art teacher---it is how she justified her art degree---before discovering that she really wanted to do ESL instead. And that I, myself, may be classified as an artist, depending upon how you define the profession/hobby. Therefore, you may want to take my opinion with a grain of salt.)

To me, it sounds like her child is entering that stage of mental development where they realize that their art skill does not match what they want to accomplish. It is that stage where you start noticing that your drawings do not look anything like what your eye sees. It happens with all artists...and all normally developing children. Often, if no art training is undertaken at this point in time, the child/aspiring artist gives up and never does art ever again because they believe that they "can't draw."

What I told this mother is that I encourage children to attend art classes. After all, we need more artists in the world.

But I also warned her to check out the art teacher (if possible) before sending her child into the class. I understood completely her concern. I had a horrible teacher in high school art, who basically give me failing grades because I was doing things that he did not think were necessarily (such as doing studies of other artists' work, and working from photographs)---things I learned later were actually being done by professional artists.

(Years later, my sister Mary also had him as an art teacher. Turns out that he is one of those artists who can draw directly from his head without needing models and photographs to improve the final product---and he did not understand that some of us need a template to work from. My sister survivaled his class by doing abstract art.)

I told the mother that ideally that the art teacher should be teaching skill sets (color theory, how to use the equipment, how to draw what your eyes sees, etc.) and not "this is what real art looks like." I also suggested, if the local school's art teacher was not up to par, that she check out the local artists' guild. And that art books and self-training was an option (that is how I eventually got to the skill level that I have).

My closing advice to her was: Figure out a way to increase her skill set and knowledge of basic techniques. And yes, (you are right) avoid those who are going to impose their idea of right and wrong art.

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