Art as process not product.
It's 2007 and am preparing for my first Artist's Open House. I've joined a diverse group of friends, a sculptor, an oil painter, a printer and a mixed media abstract artist. We're in the final throes of hanging our work and getting the space ready for our opening night. It's my abstract artist friend's work I particularly admire. It's incredibly free and captivating. She has struggled over the years to create and in conversation she's the first to tell me something I hold in the forefront of my mind even today. 'It's all about the process Hannah, not the product.' She goes on to explain that if you paint without expectation, without the pressure of keeping your final work, you're liberated from this expectation. It was a lightbulb moment for me but still so hard to put into practice.
Ten years later and I'm working with children running a watercolour art workshop for 5-8yr olds. These words come back to me, but they barely need to be spoken to the children. I'm struck by how these children are naturally process driven. How they create freely and happily compared to my adult friends who are so critical and negative about their work.
As my work in the Early Years increases, I'm drawn back again and again to question where our obsession with art as a product comes from. If we listen to our internal voices as we create, they are spoken by our childhood parents and teachers. At best, even some encouraging words are still product focussed. 'Let's put it up to dry now', 'Are you taking that home for Mummy?' At worst they are laced with criticism 'Why is the sky green? You know the sky is blue' 'What's it supposed to be?'
What if it's not supposed to 'be' anything? Why is that not ok? What if the child was enjoying the texture of paint as it flowed over the paper as it muddled with other colours and some water. What about the feel of the glue, the movement of the tissue paper, the magic of colours mixing ultimately to their lowest common denominator, brown. None of these 'products' are necessarily appealing but I love them all for their reflections of the process. I see it in the fingerprints, the crunkled paper and spilled paint.
I can spot adult-led art a mile off. I can spot a painting created by a child under duress. These paintings have a lethargy about them with shadows of boredom as their creators have been kept at the table beyond their natural interest span. They're too clean somehow.
I take a lot of inspiration from the Waldorf approach to art. Art is the foundation of the Waldorf curriculum and is woven through every subject. This fits so well with our approach at Barn Cottage. I combine this with real artist materials (visit Seawhites in Billingshurst to stock up with your little one), cartridge paper for daily creating, watercolours and thick watercolour paper, Stockmar natural beeswax crayons and chunky Lyra pencils. These are freely accessed on our Montessori art shelves. We create at the table with adults painting alongside children. The easel is always accessible for creating vertically and standing (a whole separate blog post on that).
And once we're done, paintings may be kept to dry or recycled, many will make their way to you, not always on the day they were created. You may choose to proudly display them on your fridge or in a frame, you may choose to file some in the recycling and please never feel guilty about doing this because remember, the value in those paintings was to the creator in the process, not for the spectator in the product. (Although, that's not to say that there is no value in an audience, one of my greatest pleasures is to admire the work of others.)