Nurturing Art Appreciation in Children (okay, adults too!)

By Nathan, Age 4

The development of art was one one of the first steps that mankind took on his path to civilization.  Throughout history, great value has been placed on beauty, originality, and creativity.  From cave paintings, shell beads and tattoos to modern day architecture, advertisements and photography, art is all around us, and in fact, embedded deep into our very being.

Why then, do we need to nurture it, teach it, and experience it if it is already a part of us? Because many of us have lost the ability to express what is inside of us, to open our eyes and really see the world around us, or even to admit that art is a part of our lives at all.

In today’s schools, many art programs are being cut.  It is not unusual for children to have never held a paintbrush, squeezed a lump of clay, or even been a part of a class play.  Oddly enough, many schools are beginning to offer “enrichment” programs to home schooled families as a way to recoup some of the funding lost due to these children not being in school.  I can sign a home schooled child up for an art class (, but the child in public school does not get that same luxury.  Don’t get me wrong, I think these types of programs are wonderful, I just wish they would be offered to ALL children.

We have a tendency to put a huge emphasis on excelling in math and reading, science and social studies, however we are telling children that art is not worth learning.  That it isn’t a “real” choice as a career field.  Now look around at the world.  Everywhere you turn, there is art.  Now, more than ever.  There are billboards and advertisements that SOMEONE designed.  There are websites, buildings, landscaping and products surrounding us that have all been designed with beauty, originality and creativity.  The movies we watch, the music we listen to and the apps we have on our phones and ipads are all forms of art.

By Amairani, Grade 1
Okay, so what can we do about it?  How can we teach our children what the schools are not?  How can we add it into our home school classes?  Or, if we are school teachers, how can we add it into our classrooms?  Exposure and communication.  That is all we need to appreciate art.  Exposure is easy, it’s all around, right?  You just need to look at things in a new way.  Look at everything for the art in it, listen and feel too!  Use your senses.  The communication may be a little more difficult.  We are a verbal species.  We need to learn the terms for communicating what we are experiencing.  We need to learn what questions to ask to evoke responses in ourselves and the children we are with.  Okay, that’s really pretty easy when you get the hang of it too!
So where to begin?  Outside.  No, really!  Go.  Visit the ever changing multi-sensory work of art that nature provides us with, that nature IS.  For the first assignment, take a step back.  Look up.  Every day, the sky is different.  Even here in Phoenix the sky is never quite the same shade of blue.  The sunsets are never quite the same.  Even the night skies are changing, moving.  Rather than seeing sky, or clouds, or the moon, you are seeing art.  Now discuss that.  Ask questions.  Make statements.  Even get excited.  Do this whenever you are outside. 
“Wow, look at the cloud in front of the sun! It’s really beautiful!
 I like the way the edge is so bright. It really contrasts with the darkness
 of the inside of the cloud and makes it stand out from the other clouds!
What do you think?”

“I really like the different cloud shapes and colors.  Which ones
are your favorites?  There are so many shades of gray in the clouds,
and so many layers.  The blue sky behind is so bright.  It isn’t like
the paler blue we saw yesterday, is it?”

“Amazing! Going outside is like walking into a sepia photograph!” 
(Actual conversation last night.)  “The sun is being filtered by all
of the dust in the air, turning the sky this unusual color!”
(These photos are actual color, they have not been changed. 
They were taken with the same camera just a few hours after the ones above.)
“Isn’t is amazing how many colors nature gives us?!”
Hopefully now you are beginning to get you child(ren) a little excited, a little involved in communicating about what they see.  Don’t forget to ask about sounds, feelings and smells too. “Can you smell the rain in the air?  How about the dust?  Do you hear any birds?  Are the crickets chirping?  Did you know you can tell how hot it is by how quickly the crickets chirp?”  Tie in whatever might interest them.  Or you.  It’s all about making connections.  There is beauty in science, creativity in math (how can you solve that equation you’ve never seen before?!), and originality in writing.  Art is everywhere.
What next?  Break out that box of crayons, those watercolors (get some good ones – more on that later), construction paper and create something inspired by what you saw.  YOU create.  Don’t just give materials to the kids.  Don’t even make it into an activity that “we’ll all do together” unless you are doing it as a class activity.  Kids need to see adults participating in the creative process for it to become something of value.  Otherwise it is just “something kids do.” 
This does not necessarily mean draw clouds.  This means use that blue you liked from the sky and the gray from the clouds.  Let them mix and join with each other.  Or make something abstract. Use the fluffiness of the clouds to inspire a world made of fluff.  If you want to do clouds, try out some in different colors, and try to shade the colors in rather than drawing a traditional cloud shape.  These activities encourage thinking out of the box.  We don’t want cookie cutter thinking, we want creativity.  This may take time, but the example you set will inspire the children around you.
If people view art as just something pretty to look at, it will always be “extra fluff” that the schools can deem unnecessary.  If they learn instead that art awareness inspires creative thinking, originality of ideas and provides thought provoking material, perhaps there will come a day when it is considered absolutely essential.

4 Responses to Nurturing Art Appreciation in Children (okay, adults too!)

  1. Plain and Joyful Living July 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    My children were just lying on blankets yesterday afternoon looking up at the sky – when I asked what they were doing they responded, "cloud watching".
    This is a great post.

  2. woodmouse-Amber July 29, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    Lovely post! Makes me long for clouds to gaze up at, we have just plain solid blue here 99% of the time (yes, poor me, lol). I do like the idea of a nature walk with art in mind…will have to try that with my boy, he is in a robot drawing mode right now.

  3. woolies July 30, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    Awesome pics! I love the sky in southern AZ this time of year too, and have some pics I took the other morning. And woodmouse made me laugh, as the constant blueness does get so….boring. đŸ™‚

  4. Lettie Vanderlaan June 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks for the marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you might be a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and may come back very soon. I want to encourage one to continue your great posts, have a nice day!

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