Monday 23 October 2017

The rise of our budding Da Vincis

Our children are churning out more artwork than ever. Is this art education gone mad?

MOST family homes have more art on the fridge door than is on view in the National Gallery. But the big dilemma for parents snowed under with kiddies' art is whether to chuck it or keep it.

A friend recently told me a story about her child's creche. A dad collecting his daughter at the end of term was given her folder of artwork to keep but he simply told the creche worker to "chuck it out", leaving the employee in tears!

Do you really have to be cruel to be kind to keep the output of your junior Da Vincis in check? After all, there's only so much room on that fridge door for finger painting.

When I was a child, art class was limited to once a week and was very much based on producing a final artefact to bring home to my parents, such as the classic Christmas snowman. My husband's recollection is of art class being so deprived that he reckons they only ever did some cave paintings!

In contrast, our pre-school son already has a bulging folder packed with his artistic oeuvre.

So are our little ones over-producing? Has art education gone mad over the years leading to the unnecessary mass production of kiddie art?

As head of art and design education at CIT Crawford College in Cork, Albert Walsh is perfectly positioned to give us some answers.

Crawford offers an innovative MA in teaching visual art at primary and early years education, which is proving popular.

"The most significant changes in art education at primary level took place in 1999 with the launch of the revised primary school curriculum and with the implementation of the visual arts curriculum, starting in 2001," explains Albert.

"This is a very effective curriculum, emphasising the child's experiences, imagination and observations as the starting points for art activities and promoting the child's interaction with artwork."

In the old days the vibe was that toddlers would just make a mess and waste artistic material. I remember the nuns placing tight controls on glitter distribution in my primary school.

Albert explains that now there's a greater emphasis on exploration and the creative process, rather than just producing a final artefact. "The final piece is only part of the story," he says.

"The creative process is fundamental to all art education because it's where very valuable learning takes place. The child often changes their artwork as it is being produced and each different stage can involve different learning.

"During the artistic process the child experiences direct involvement with their visual world, as they perceive it or imagine it."

The benefits of art for young children are boundless. It teaches shape and colour and builds up their cognitive skills.

"Children are innately curious on many levels, not least visually," explains Albert.

He sees artistic activities as offering children unique ways of investigating and understanding their environment.

"It offers them a form of visual expression around their experiences of these and enriches their understanding and tolerance of how others view their experiences. It's a way by which they can enjoy the various visual elements of their world."

While parents feel obliged to encourage their children's artistic skills, they have to balance that with being a dispassionate art critic when it comes to deciding what to ditch.

Children's book illustrator and mum-of-three Roisin Cure has some strict criteria when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to dump.

"I keep things that have artistic merit and are presentable. I put a date and a name on it and have them in a bag," she says.

"I don't keep things like photocopies they have coloured in between the lines."

Roisin recognises the delicate nature of throwing out little ones' art work.

"You have to be so careful about what you throw out because the danger is they might find it in the recycling bin. It's happened to me before and I was like: 'What? How did that fall in there? Give it to me here and we'll hang it up.'"

"I have no memories of my parents throwing my art out but I think there weren't the reams of stuff produced as there are today."

Parents need to consider carefully which pieces have artistic merit. What grown-ups consider 'production line' school art may actually be really important to the child.

"Olivia found an angel she had made in school down the back of a chair a while back. She was so delighted. I wouldn't have seen anything in it but it made me think twice," says Roisin.

It's interesting to consider how children view their own artwork. Do they see every piece as valuable or is some disposable? Albert Walsh feels children produce artwork at different times for different reasons.

"Sometimes they just want to experience the particular artistic medium and are quite random in the type of images they produce and in turn the finished piece is often unimportant to them," he says.

Other times they have a story to tell and the artwork is very expressive of the child's feelings at that particular time.

"The behaviour of the child will reveal how they feel about the particular piece.

"Personally, I feel that when it comes to holding on to artwork those pieces that are more expressive and story-like are probably more important as they document the child's thinking and feelings at specific times during childhood," Albert explains.


Roisin, an artist herself, doesn't believe in giving her children bad quality materials and feels that by giving the best quality they're more respectful in what they turn out.

"I find they have a lot more consideration for their output, and there isn't as much of it when they have good quality materials."

Her children Honor (11), Paddy (nine), and Olivia (six) certainly are high-achievers when it comes to art. Olivia recently won first prize in the Texaco art competition for six years and younger category for her cutely named 'Rosie Whiskers' painting.

"Olivia took us all by surprise. We thought she took after her dad more, who's a scientist. She was a lot shyer about her pictures and was always comparing herself to her sister.

"For the Texaco competition she did this incredible painting. She has been transformed by the result of it. She feels like an equal in terms of her artistic ability with her siblings," she says.

Painting is in the family and Roisin was on the lookout from early on. "All children love to hold a pencil and draw. It is amazing to watch scribbles turn to circles.

"Our home is a very natural environment for the children to draw. I have always been very conscious about not to criticise or tell them what to do."

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