Art Work in Montessori
Humans are creative. It’s a creative act to speak, to cook, to dance, to imagine, to create art. Children are particularly creative, since inhibition and worry about the end result haven’t set in yet. Creativity is receptive as well as productive, so if you’d like to hear a podcast on this same post, scroll to the bottom, or find us on iTunes.
We have art in Montessori classrooms for a few reasons — to support and feed this creativity, as an opportunity for expression and concentration, to experiment with holding a tool and moving it around (basically, handwriting), and practice making mistakes, to name a few.
We rarely have art projects that are “supposed” to look a certain way. Art is expressive and creative, and “glue this here and then you’ll have a snowman” is contrary to the “what do you think?” nature of work in Montessori.
Additionally, some artwork has a product, and some is just about the process. Sometimes this is built into the work — chalkboard and cutting come to mind. Other times, this is a byproduct of the child — choosing to put a painting in the recycling rather than in a folder to take home.
Still other times, a child might be torn about their art. We can see this when a child asks, “do you like it?” and when we naturally respond “yes, of course!” there is relief on their face and in their words when they say, “I made it for you.”
Sometimes, we are the recycling bin.
Letting go of something you’ve made is similarly challenging to letting go of something someone has given to you. It is more than crayon on paper. It is more than just a sweater. It is my hopes and dreams, it is my relationship with this person.
“Every artist will say, there’s a lot of practice that comes first.”
There are times when art really is special, and a child wants to keep their painting or their collage. They’re proud and want to show it off. Similarly, sometimes art is given as a gift; “I made this for you,” is true and sincere. I was thinking of you when I made this, I colored the whole page with your favorite color, look, it’s you and me.
We can inadvertently cause this internal tug-of-war with the words we choose to use around a child’s art.
In wanting to support a child’s creativity, affirm a skill we admire in a child, perhaps an ability we wish we still had, sometimes we discourage a child’s casual discarding of art. Whether it’s because we really love a piece they’ve made, or because we don’t want them to feel bad, “No, don’t throw it away!” tumbles out. “Wow, I’m so proud of you! You colored inside the lines! Yes, I love it!” when a child asks what we think of their art.
But, what’s wrong with discarding, re-purposing, feeling disappointed? We want to protect our children from anything unpleasant, including feeling less than satisfied with a creative project.
Comfort with letting-go is so important. This wasn’t my favorite painting, I might use it as a background for another piece of art, or as cutting practice. This didn’t turn out like I imagined, that’s okay, I can keep practicing. This was my favorite fridge-worthy piece, but now I think it’s time to put a new piece up. These favorites go into a keepsake box, the others were just practice.
This is all okay. Some children are prolific artists, putting da Vinci’s journals to shame. Some children prefer the temporal arts — sidewalk chalk, or water on a hot driveway, or a rock sculpture — or wearable art — jewelry or a “just-so” outfit — or less obvious forms of art — beautiful handwriting, or making music, or cooking.
Every artist will say, there’s a lot of practice that comes first. Not every piece is a magnum opus, not every piece is even kept. There is casual discarding, and disappointed frustration, and it’s all practice.
How can we support children in making art, in keeping and giving away and in discarding, in the emotional side of creativity — both the boundless expression, and the tie to the end result? What words do we choose to support the process, rather than the result? We are all artists, we just need to recognize the Art, the Practice, and the Effort.
Written by:Charlotte Wood