Thursday, February 28, 2013

Creative Control


We make a lot of art in our house. Which is not to say that I spend my days coordinating creative projects for my kids. I am not that mother. In fact, if you want to ever see a cringeworthy example of my inner control freak, you should watch me try to make Christmas cookies with my kids. One of the marks of how well we love each other is how easily they take my irritation in stride when we try to make stuff together.

Acknowledging the “solo artist” aspect of my personality, I nevertheless desire to nurture my kids' creativity. When school supplies go on sale in the late summer, I always stock up on markers, crayons, watercolors, different kinds of paper, glue sticks and scissors. All this stuff gets thrown in a box and can be used whenever the mood to make stuff strikes them. I choose things carefully that can be used with minimal supervision, have low potential for disaster, and can be easily replaced so that supplies are always readily available and nothing is ever off limits. Not everything is a masterpiece, but we certainly win in volume department.

Charlie regularly tells people, “I am an artist.” And I think there's something to the style of free form constantly available creativity that is cultivated in our house that makes him see art as something that belongs to him. He will make art out of anything. There are few containers that are allowed to go directly into the recycling without Charlie first having his way with decorating them. “Mom, can I have that box?” is something I hear all the time, and since it is still recyclable after he's done, the answer is always, “Sure.” Our walls are also full of Charlie's paintings representing the makeshift art gallery he created when he was really into using the scotch tape. My inner control freak is not that interested in interior design and I have yet to discover my inner neat freak, so I wholeheartedly approve of his displays.

I had a colleague who spent some time as a daycare teacher and she talked about arguments she had with colleagues about the distinction between doing guided craft projects with the kids and art. Art, she insisted was about self-expression. Craft projects could be fun, and teach a bunch of skills, but because the focus was on a predetermined pattern, they were not art. As an artist, myself, and as a parent fostering young artists, I have come to agree with her. We may learn forms or use certain patterns as a launching point, but the heart and soul of art is the freedom of the artist to control the process and the product.

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