Not just for Kids!

I fell into a love of children’s art accidentally. I’m not an early years educator or an art teacher, and although I’ve always loved creating artwork, it was not until I had kids of my own, that I developed an interest in the artwork children produced. The value of artwork as an activity for children – especially small children, has long been recognised, and while many parents will be happy enough to let school or nursery or kindergarten get on with providing those experiences, there are lots of others who want to do more, even though they may not have been that creative themselves in the past in any conventional sense.

My own experience of running workshops and drop-in sessions for adults (in a previous life) taught me that many people enjoy being creative, but are a little scared of it. They perhaps don’t know how to start, they’re afraid of doing it ‘wrong’ and that the finished result won’t be any good in the eyes of either themselves or others. It’s an attitude that I have experienced myself sometimes – it’s very inhibiting, and can freeze you into complete inaction.

But this is where children’s art and children’s art activities have a role to play for adults too. Adult artists have long valued and appreciated the qualities of children’s art – the directness, the unselfconscious willingness to create, the freshness of vision, untainted by comparison with others or how something is meant to be. That is not to say that children follow no rules, but that the rules are of their own making, and they’re not overly concerned about those of others. An admirable approach I always think. Artists who have been consciously influenced by children’s artwork, include Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Miro and Matisse.

However the older a child gets, the less direct their art will become – they may start to get frustrated and feel that their artwork isn’t good enough. It’s a feeling we’re all familiar with. At times like this children’s art activities can come to the rescue. It’s frequently stated that here it’s the process that’s important, rather than the finished result, and I think that adults can learn a great deal from this too. Enjoying messing about with paint is therapeutic if you forget about the end result. It’s a world that you’re in control of (to a degree anyway!) and just enjoying the feel of the materials and the vibrancy of the colours for their own sake is worthwhile. That’s not to say that the finished result is of no importance, just that it should be considered as a by-product of the whole experience, not the point of it. Even if the finished product isn’t ‘successful’ as an artwork, you’ll have learned something.

Continually experimenting and learning is as valuable for adults as it is for children, but astonishingly I think that personally I have only begun to fully appreciate this in relation to artwork since I started taking an interest in children’s art. Learning to appreciate the happy accident, learning that even ‘failures’, while they may be frustrating at the time, are worthwhile for the lessons they teach you, and that ultimately there is no ‘wrong’ way to do something when it comes to art. All these are things which children’s art and art activities have taught me.

So the next time you and the kids get creative, don’t think about it being just for them. Make the most of it – this is for you too!

And if you as an adult, should feel that you need some extra help to do all this, I can recommend the following book:

Mess: The Manual of Accidents and Mistakes by Keri Smith

This is not intended to be a book for children, but it takes on the whole ethos of children’s artwork, by embracing mess, experimentation and simply having fun. The book can be worked on with children however (as I have done) and you may find that they take to it much more readily than you do yourself, if you struggle to give yourself permission to do something that has no logical end purpose. In the meantime though, you will be sending your creative mind into new and uncharted waters that it may not otherwise have entered, and therein lies the benefit.

Keri Smith has written a whole series of inspirational and playful guides aimed at kick-starting your creativity by simply having fun, and it’s well worth checking them out.