Since I started getting more into depth in Art Therapy, the conceptions I used to have about good and bad painting technique started crumbling down.
The masters of painting I admired used to be from Renaissance, Neoclassism, Romanticism or Realism. My somewhat nostalgic reference of what great masters where all about was somehow summed up in certain paintings that achived an overwhelming perception of the fleeting moment, space, lighting, shadow, color and proportion.
In someways I still remain in awe of the technique that these marvellous painters achived, nonetheless, in later years my judgement changed to favor expressive painting.
I´ve had many experiences that started opening up my mind to consider expressive and abstract art: starting to study Art Therapy, learning about Jean Dubuffet and Art brut, an important learning experience at the MoMa (Moder Museum of Art in New York), having the chance to share the same space with these paintings, although not in their original habitat but in their actual space. All these experiences summed up, but the turning point, was when working with children became my means of living.
For a short period of time in every human´s early childhood their lines are as pure and free as they´ll ever be. There is of course an evolution of the graphic gesture, as children are somewhat forced into having more control over their movement, there is also a great loss not appreciated by many: Spontaneity it´s shutted down by normative and inflexible systems.
Is learning handwriting to blame?
Although there is a great amount of research being done about handwritting and its relationship to creativity and intelligence; I have no knwoledge of compelling evidence that can asure that there is a negative correlation between creativity and standarized teaching of handwritting in children. (If there is some that has escaped my attention I will greatly appreciate if the reader can share it with me.)
Nonetheless, what I have repeatedly observed is stressed out children around the age of 5 and older asking constantly if their drawing is fine, or judging it as wrong or ugly; I´m sadened by this remarks and often baffled about where or whom they are coming from.
My handwriting is what most people would consider horrifying, even so, I´m actually proud of it, it´s kind of cooky in a fun way. Somehow it resisted the efforts to be changed by teachers and other children. Even in later years as a teacher in an elementary school, remarks where made about it by students and teachers. As years went by I started second guessing and feeling insecure about the quality of all my artwork, now I´m entering a new stage I´m apreciating the freedom of letting go of rigidity whilst painting and plunging into experimentation.
We are social learners, as the proverb sings “It takes a village to raise a child.”, I apply to somehow illustrate how, in each society, certain ideas regarding the construction of knowledge and the improvement or stagnation of diverse skills take different routes in relation to the goals, generalized values and overall agenda of those who agree upon themselves, even though they could be a priviliged group that sets it up based on their interests.
The development of artistic skills at least in mexican scholary programs is not regarded as priority. It´s a shame because it´s a great tool for developing motor skills, cognitive abilities, self-esteem, and positive relations between peers.
Art teachers are not all to be blamed. Some, are thrown into giving art classes to children, when they themselves where tantalized to be limited and narrowed in their way of creating art. Not all have had the experience of teachers that pushed them into breaking borders, of accepting imperfection, the grotesque, absurdity or chaos and even find consideration and beauty in them.
I´ve learned this through experience… when I was trying to be rigid on my efforts of teaching children about certain concepts and techniques I instantly crashed into a brick wall.
They felt frustration and boredome, I felt frustrated, the ambiance was to tense to bare. Afterwards, when I was alone, I revisited the paintings of Jean Michel Basquiat, August Walla and Jean Dubuffet, and there it was when I realized that I was starting from the wrong approach.
I realized that using those paintings to explain some concepts were far off more relatable to children than trying to show any of the classical paintings.
Explaining that even artists in their adulthood tried to imitate or liberate themselves to draw like children do, gave their own artworks an improved value.
I also started to allow them to create their own drawings at a certain time of the class without aplying any judgement to them while eliciting the parents to consider from this angle the drawings of their children and not judge them as ugly or wrong.
When it come to teaching art technique to children or I dare to say even adults, why not start from the Art Brut? adding true value to the artworks as a process instead of considering them as mistakes to be fixed.
Starting from the expression that comes more naturally to children, where they can understand color and form whilst having fun with it and developing self-esteem.