How to Talk to your Kids
(or your Adults)
About Their Art

from Linda Carson
big black pig studio

"Kids are not little adults. But they are professionals. Their job is to play, their job is to experiment, their job is to try different things."

Chuck Jones (the guy who drew Bugs Bunny)

Why do art? | Five tips on talking | What not to say | What to say | What to read | You are the first art teacher


Why do art?

Practising art, as a child or as an adult, is a joyous activity that awakens our senses in the rest of our day-to-day life. A few of us may eventually become working artists. But there are many more benefits to be gained doing art.



What you say to your kids about art can either reinforce these goals . . . or undermine them dreadfully. Who doesn't remember some devastating experience-in grade two, perhaps with a well-meaning adult who "corrected" your painting because "trees have to be green, dear"?


Five tips on talking to your kids about their art

"Right" or "Wrong" applies only to the use of tools & materials, not to the artwork or subject matter.
Creative folks try to practice divergent thinking (where we get lots of different answers and ideas) instead of convergent thinking (where we're trying to conform by arriving at the one correct answer). It's usually a good thing when your kids' paintings don't look like any of the others in the class.
P.S. Give them more blank paper, fewer colouring books.
Focus on the process, not the product.
What you're trying to do is feed back their explorations to them--being neither too critical nor too gushy--and leave lots of room in the conversation for them to talk, too. What they think about their artwork is more important than what you or I think.
What you're trying not to do is impose adult standards on kids' work. You probably know, from your own childhood experience, that the most crushing thing you can say is "What is it?"
Let your kids decide which works are the best for display.
Sure, you may save everything (dated) in a box so you can look back on their progress, but you obviously can't show it all off. The latest work can go on the fridge door. Then buy a clip frame (easy to change the artwork) and encourage your kids to select their favourite of the month to decorate the front hall. Doing art is one of the only opportunities kids have in their week to exercise, explore & develop their own judgement. At the easel, they're in charge of what's right, what's best, what's next. Instead of learning & conforming to an external adult standard of excellence, they're discovering their own.
Don't over-praise.
If you gush all the time, your kids stop valuing your praise and may eventually doubt that anything they do is praiseworthy.
Praise them for doing, not being.
Focus your praise on the work accomplished, not on your kids' innate brilliance. ("What a great idea!" or "You really worked hard on this painting!" rather than "You're so clever.") Get it? Kids who are rewarded for "doing" (working hard & making progress) continue to thrive. Kids who are congratulated for "being" smart--or artistic or imaginative--often start playing it safe to protect their image.

What NOT to say . . .

Even "Tell me about your painting" can embarrass young or non-verbal kids. For example, here are some of the most notorious things never to say to an artist of any age or experience.

Honourable mention goes to the great classic, "It's so . . . interesting."

What to say . . .

Focus praise on the effort, not the product. For example:

Talk about the shapes, colours & marks you see. For example:

Promote self-evaluation. For example:

Encourage effort, enjoyment, & risk-taking. For example:


What to read . . .

Buy ‘em, or read mine while your kids are in class. I am especially indebted to Peggy Jenkins for most of the suggestions on "What to say."

Doing Art Together
by Muriel Silberstein-Storfer with Mablen Jones ISBN 0-671-43428-4 Pbk.
Art for the Fun of It: a guide for teaching young children
originally published as Art Principles and Practices by Peggy Davison Jenkins ISBN 0-671-76151-X
The Creative Spirit
by Goleman, Kaufman & Ray
especially Chapter 2--Creativity in Children

I'm not a fan of Mona Brooke's Drawing with Children.


You are the first art teacher your kids ever know

Your interest & informed praise contribute daily to your kids' creative development.

M y own parents never studied art or teaching. (My mother says she was actually excused from grade five art because it was too damaging to her self-esteem.) But Mummy always got the movers to leave behind big heaps of the blank newsprint paper they used to wrap our dishes, and she never bought me colouring books. Daddy said, "Of course you can learn to run a jigsaw" and everybody said it was okay to get dirty. I thank them every chance I get.

Linda Carson
owner/operator of the big black pig studio
AKA
the person behind the pig

Why do art? | Five tips on talking | What not to say | What to say | What to read | You are the first art teacher


Cheers! The pig is a working art studio in Waterloo, Ontario [Canada] where you'll find me, Linda Carson (the person behind the pig), offering art lessons privately and for small groups.

For the latest snail-mailing on course offerings at the pig, call 519-884-7355 and leave a cheery message (including your name and your complete mailing address). The pig is not a prompt e-correspondent.

big black pig studio | art lessons | student art | linda's art | Frequently Asked Questions

For that authentic small-town feel, the big black pig studio is located above McPhail's bicycle shop and next door to the Harmony Lunch at 98 King Street North, Waterloo, Ontario [Canada] N2J 2X4, telephone 519-884-7355.

E-mail linda@bigblackpig.com (that's Linda, the person behind the pig).