of the honest art of children

IMG_4794As I get to know my children, one of my favorite things is seeing their creativity emerge. I love the way children create art–their process is so free and unhindered. Every movement contains just a little splash of adventure as they explore the textures and colors of their medium. They make decisions rapidly and carelessly, their ideas unhindered by perfectionism.

IMG_4802At these ages we do plenty of structured crafts, with instructions to follow and a specific desired outcome in mind. (“We are building a picture frame with popsicle sticks. . .” etc.) I think learning to follow directions and the appropriate use of materials are both useful skills. However, truth be told, my favorites among my children’s artistic endeavors are those that they create themselves, with the freedom to design things as they wish, permission to make a mess, and few interruptions from me. Sometimes I can’t help myself and I intervene before the artist has announced a finished product–I’ll love what’s coming out and I want to save the piece just as-is, before my child decides next to cut it up with scissors or paint it totally over with black or something. What kind of a mother removes a painting from a child who is wailing, “I wasn’t done yet!” ?!? (Yes, I have.)

IMG_4797We still have a gallery in our house and it is now necessary for me to change out the artwork thereupon about every other week. I usually forget to show this to guests, though Daddy does a wonderful job of noticing its changing content and appreciating the girls’ work. I think carefully displaying and saving the very best of their efforts has encouraged them to pursue excellence.

IMG_4799This gallery often reflects what we are learning and not only because of the structured and planned crafts that are hung there. I find the things we are learning appearing and reappearing in their independent efforts as well, reminding me of a crucial educational law. (Or is it a life law?) Simply put: that input inspires output. The quality of what we consume informs the quality of what we produce. That, my fellow proponents of classical education, is why we aim for the good, the true, and the beautiful. (Which are, as Plato wrote, objective values, not subjective ones.)

Before we get too lofty it must be said that I am not sure how much of the good, the true, and the beautiful is evident in “Birdwing,” independently drawn by Norah during our study of birds. This bird is engaged in  . . . a natural process.

IMG_4801Sometimes the children are inspired by other creative people and creative acts they witness. At the lodge in July the girls watched my father-in-law, assisted by their uncle, tinker with a water wheel to place in the Brule River.

IMG_4057Last week Harriet recreated its design, with some modifications of her own, with strips of paper and scotch tape. “What are you making?” I asked. “This is a water wheel for Papa,” she said, “like the one to put in the river.” I love it. I love that they build sculptural creations when they are playing outside because they have seen their Papa create things like this one he made on the shore of Lake Superior:

IMG_3852It always pays to wait when one of them is completely focused on something, to let their ideas develop. It pays to ask gently what it is, even if, at first, it just looks like blobs or smears. The picture below was one of those. I have blocked out the title, any guesses?


“What do you want to call your painting, Harriet?” I asked. “It’s ‘Pig in the Mud’,” she said. Can you see it now? The pig is rolling on its back.


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