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Raising little artists when dad is artistically challenged

One of the best parts of adulthood is that I am no longer graded on my ability to draw. For whatever reason, I never really got past the stick-figure stage. Fortunately, I now live in an adult world where PowerPoint can cover up my freehand liabilities and stick figures are more or less acceptable on those rare occasions when I absolutely must communicate visually.

But this leaves me a bit stuck when it comes to playing an active role in exposing my kids to visual arts. I'm a passable musician, so I'm capable of giving some guidance there. But when it comes to art, I'm at a loss.

I'm now trying a three-pronged approach. The first is to buy as many art supplies as I possibly can -- paint, markers, easels, modeling clay. You name it, we have it in the basement somewhere, easily accessible. The second prong is to participate right alongside the kids, regardless of how feeble my illustrations of a cat might be. And the last element is not to care what anyone's final product looks like, as long as everyone enjoyed themselves. In this, I take a lot of inspiration from a wonderful children's book called "The Dot."

But I am not wholly confident in this approach. It seems like art is one of those areas where expression might be important, but -- at the end of the day -- there is something to be said for technical skill. And I am certainly not bringing anything close to technical skill to the table when we break out the art supplies. I'm sure I'm not the first one to encounter this problem, so I'm curious if any of you have strategies to make sure that kids love art ... and end up better at it than I.

By Brian Reid |  November 17, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Education
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Brian, I think you take it too seriously. The most important thing is to let the kids be free to express themselves and have fun. Most kids will not end up being artists, so I would not worry one bit about their technical ability.

If they do show signs of interest or ability, consult with their art teachers at school.

There are also some extra curricular programs that help elementary school aged children explore art. I know I googled some while looking for party places.

But like most things, kids just have fun and like to explore. I think parents put way too much emphasis on their kids extra curricular activities. Most kids won't end up being professional artists, musicians, athletes, or dancers. Most of them will end up like us. Mid level professionals reading blogs!

Posted by: foamgnome | November 17, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

If you're that worried, why not ask the kids if they want to take an art class? If they're interested, then great. If not, then having art supplies available is a fine solution.

Posted by: newsahm | November 17, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

"so I'm curious if any of you have strategies to make sure that kids love art"

Dunno if you can make sure a kid loves anything.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 17, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

What everyone else has said - even jezebel!

Art should be about freedom of expression and having fun, not technical proficiency. My playdough "snakes" make my kid really happy... Lighten up a bit, Brian, and have some fun yourself!

Posted by: VaLGaL | November 17, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Make sure a kid loves art? What if they don't? Do we kick them to the curb? Non-Art lover!!! You will pay!!!

In all seriousness, I agree that Brian is being too serious. Let kids draw, paint, mold clay, etc - just have some art supplies, and if they like it enough to take a class - enroll them. Ohh and ahh over their art projects at school and display them. Pursue their talent/interest as you see fit as a parent.

I don't lose any sleep over wondering if my kids think less of me because I am not a good artist. Does anyone? Rather, anyone besides Brian?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | November 17, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

If you still lived in DC you could take him to the Hirshorn so he can laugh at all the stupid stuff people call "art", then go back home, look at what he did, and realize it's just as good.

I'm sure you can find some horrible modern art museum in Mudville (or wherever you are).

Posted by: 06902 | November 17, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I agree with everyone else, just let them explore and have fun. If they really enjoy it, enroll them in a class so that someone else can help guide them once their abilities have surpassed your own.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | November 17, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Excellent strategy. Now just relax and fun!

(Neither of my parents had any nor encouraged any artistic talent and yet I have natural artistic talents and I love art.)

Posted by: cmecyclist | November 17, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The most gifted artists I knew were the kids in HS that drew those brilliant pictures of fire breathing dragons, morbid gothic war scenes, and depicted hilarious charactures of their fellow students and teachers with a few simple strokes of their pen as they ignored their school work. They consisted of the bullies, the socially disturbed (usually severely withdrawn), and the chronic substance abusers. It was obvious to me that their art was and outward expression of their inner suffering.

Creativity and talent just. can't. be. taught.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 17, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Hey! Cut out the Mudville comments. There is plenty of art and artistic inspiration where Brian now lives.

Here are some suggestions and the media that could be used.

Water colors to portray that great expanse of corn and soy bean fields.

Color pencils to trace the great flatness that exists any direction from the center of the University.

Modeling clay to make the grain silos that adjoin the railroad tracks.

Licorice to represent the railroad tracks and straws to make the 2 lane highways such as Illinois Route 47 that runs from the west side of town (only 15 minutes from any place in town) north into the vast expanse of flat-lands past Chicago to Wisconsin.

I mean, where do you think the inspiration for "American Gothic" came from?

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | November 17, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

(Still better than going to Purdon't.)

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | November 17, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Encourage them to be creative, I think you're on to something by supplying them with art supplies. Like others said, perhaps enroll them in art classes. What about taking them to art museums, or just looking at architecture of old buildings? Art is everywhere, from graphic design in advertisements to something as simple as the way you place food on a plate. Point out art in everyday activities.

Posted by: Merdi | November 17, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I think I disagree with the other posters- I think that art is just as important as any other subject, and it is sadly all but ignored in the public schools.

Perhaps my view is different because my mother and paternal grandmother were/are artists. I don't have much talent in that regard at all (can barely draw a straight line), but I think I still benefitted a great deal from the formal art instruction I received at home and at the private school I attended for high school. And there should be *something* that every kid can enjoy, especially if the teacher is any good.

Even if you aren't ever going to be great at it, there's still a lot of personal satisfaction and intellectual benefit from learning different techniques and skills. And if for no other reason, there is a big benefit to kids' fine motor skills, which (according to my teacher friends) have become steadily worse since younger kids started using computers.

You could also pick up a copy of "drawing on the right side of the brain" and learn to draw along with the kids! The premise of that book is that everyone should be able to draw passably well, and just needs to be taught how to see correctly to be able to translate real-life images into pictures.

Posted by: floof | November 17, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

While my daughter was growing up, I tried repeatedly to find art classes for my daughter that offered technical instruction, but no matter where I looked and no matter what the class descriptions said, it just was not available. It was always the same "be creative!," touchy-feely, open art-supply playtime that I provided at home for free. I agree that creativity should be encouraged, but many kids really want to be able to represent things the way they are imagining them and naturally become frustrated when they lack the skills to do so. We don't force them to reinvent mathematical concepts without guidance or "discover" for themselves the rules of grammar or how to play the oboe, but this pervasive hands-off trend in art instruction has become nearly universal. At the time I could not afford it, but I would recommend finding a private art teacher who has had formal training and being upfront about exactly what you are looking for, to make sure they are on board with providing actual technical instruction. Take the lessons with your kids, and you will probably be surprised at your own progress.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a good book, as floof recommended, and another good one is Mark Kistler's Draw Squad.

Posted by: rh36 | November 17, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Oskee-Wow-Wow, Fred!

On topic: Brian, lighten up. Have art supplies on hand; let them experiment. If they show real inclination and talent you can find someone at UIUC's Fine Arts department to work with them. If not, let 'em just appreciate other folks' work.

Off topic: since it's Ole Broken Bucket week, and Fred brought it up: in honor of the friendly foes:

Oh Indiana, you big banana,
Oh Indiana, to hell with you.
We will fight for our cream and coffee
And the Honor of Old Purdue!
At the altar, you always falter,
And in battle, you're black and blue!
Oh Indiana, Oh Indiana, Oh Indiana, TO HELL WITH YOU!!!

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 17, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I got private lessons when I was seven. I loved those Saturday mornings! In high school there was a Basic Art class that I took, learned proportion and scale, and basic drawing skills. In college I got an Art Appreciation course that was enourmously fun and interesting. Found out my favorite period / style was Impressionism, and my favorite painters were Monet and Van Gough.

Through all of that I discovered two things about myself - I don't have any particular talent for drawing, just an average doodler, really. But I have a *great* sense of color, which has always served me well in my sewing and fabric / crafts projects, and in my garden where foliage, flower and fruit colors all matter.

Give the kids some sort of formal lessons. No, they probably won't grow up to be the next Picasso (or whoever), but they'll at least be able to draw an elephant that looks like an elephant and not a unicorn. And they might discover skills or abilities that they can apply in other areas.

Posted by: SueMc | November 17, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

The National Museum of Art and the Hirshorn and other galleries have wonderful, drop by programs for children - often on the weekends. The Buildings Museum also has wonderful programs. Sometimes they are scavenger hunts that you take the children on - you go around the galleries and find specific objects in paintings or answer questions about paintings. Then you go back to a conference room and the child gets to use the various materials that you reviewed and make their own creation.

We moved away from DC so we haven't done this in a while - but it is a wonderful, FREE intro to art and art history - and the programs are so casual that you can take all ages and get something out of it.

I know nothing about art - so even the simplistic guides for their children's activities taught me something, in addition to exposing the children to art in a fun way.

Despite my total lack of talent and insecurity about what I can do artistically, my children are positive and confident about approaching art and doing their own drawing, etc.

The best thing to do for a child is to give them the supllies, encourage them cheerfully, and expose them to people with talent (if you don't have any). And it's all lots of fun!

Posted by: Amelia5 | November 17, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

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