I’m sure you’ve heard it before, spoken about a piece of abstract art hanging in a museum or gallery, “My CHILD could make that.” Maybe it is because I am an abstract painter or maybe it is because I am an Early Childhood Art Teacher, but when I hear this statement my immediate response is “Wow, what an amazing little artist you have in your home, how lucky you are.” I understand the sarcasm of the above mentioned statement but my awe of children’s artwork is completely and actively sincere.
In the Art Room at St. George’s we live by a philosophy that you may have heard before, “Process Over Product” or “Process Art.” This is the idea that the process of making a piece of artwork is more valuable than the end result. And indeed, our youngest learners often embrace this idea to the most beautiful extreme, quickly destroying a piece of artwork they’ve worked on for an entire art class. Our youngest learners are the most brilliant practitioners of “Process Art” and I myself as an artist, stand to learn much from them. I think you as a parent, caregiver, teacher or family member can learn from their art as well.
The Process Art Movement was a prominent art movement in Europe and America in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (Tate). This movement was influenced by the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock as well as the philosophy of certain ritual spiritual practices such as Tibeten Sand Painting in which Buddhist Monks spend as long as weeks creating intricate mandalas out of sand only to sweep them up when finished (Kordic). Process Art of the 60’s and 70’s did not hide the process of making, it celebrated it. Process became the subject and purpose of art. The art was about the types of materials chosen as well as the actions an artist does to these materials (Kordic). For example, an artist may work with resin coated string and they may lay, drop or hang this string to create form. Process Art was physical and it was action based. With an emphasis on the ritual of making and connection with material, Process Art rejects the idea of valuing objects over experience and looks towards a more meaningful and even spiritual way of looking at and making art.
Though our youngest learners are clear masters of Process Art, we teach the importance of Process in all grade levels at St. George’s. There is Process in all forms of art making. Let’s take drawing as an example. The process of drawing is actually a process of learning and recording. It is important for a visual artist to look at their surrounding physical world and reflect and express this world through their work. The physical world can teach us about form, proportion, scale and so much more. A drawing reflects the real time marks that we, as artists are making in response to looking at and experiencing the physical world. Whether an artist is rendering a depiction of a still life placed in front of them or listening to music and responding to the beats and rhythm of a song with different types of marks, the response is what is recorded in a drawing. Students inevitably want to perfectly erase ‘mistakes’ in their drawings. Process Art encourages them to build on misplaced marks and embrace the process of learning through doing. A strong tenant of Process Art is embracing the imperfections of being a human. Personally I love a drawing made without an eraser - a drawing that shows a clear record of how it was made. This is a clear record of learning taking place.
Our youngest learners are adept at responding to their physical surroundings in complicated ways. They may not be expressing what they see in front of them in a literal sense but their artwork is still expressing their world. This work is also about learning - it may be learning how to hold a paintbrush, learning the sensation that different types of paint produce, the different ways of manipulating clay, or different ways of building with scrap materials. I love working with our youngest learners because they are so close to this learning and the physical sensation of it. As we grow older we lose some of this immediate sensation. As holding a paintbrush or pencil becomes routine and even a force of habit, we disconnect from the physical sensation and our thinking/analyzing brains turn on. When this happens, art can become more about reaching a preconceived idea than expressing our place in the physical world. There is no hierarchy as to which is more important in art - expressing an immediate physical sensation or expressing a preconceived idea. But while living in a screen centric and hectic world, the practice of mindfulness and noticing the physical can be a healing and rejuvenating practice. It can also be a way in to art if making art has ever felt intimidating to you. So maybe give it a try, find some materials and make a piece of Process Art. See where it takes you. Remember, the end product doesn’t have to live for longer than a few seconds.
Whether thinking about Process Art helps you unplug and enjoy a new creative task, enjoy your child’s artwork with new eyes or perhaps even brings you a newfound appreciation for abstract art, I think it is a valuable thing to be aware of and open to. I challenge you to look at your child’s artwork, and think about their process of learning through doing, their experience of the feel of paint on a piece of paper, the energy they may feel and how they express this. Try and find the areas where your child is super focused. How much energy do they put into controlling a brush? When do they give up control and allow the materials to do the talking? I challenge you to visit a museum and do the same thing with a piece of artwork that you are confused by. Look at the art with new eyes, try to see deeper into an abstract painting, what are the marks trying to say? What energy do they bring? Don’t try and pick out images from the work, pick out actions, emotions, energies.
Our young artists have so much to teach us and we are truly blessed to be able to learn from and with them every day. I dare you to be as brave and feeling as they are.
Untitled (Rope Piece)
Kandinsky Music Painting
Kandinsky Music Painting
Kandinsky Music Painting
Tate Modern, “Art Term - Process Art”< https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/process-art > 10/7/2020.
Kordic, Angie. “Understanding the Origin and Legacy of Process Art.” WideWalls 2013-2020 < https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/process-art-artists-history > 10/7/2020.