Do Your Students Ever Ruin Their Own Artwork?

One of my four-year-old students made the most beautiful pieces of art. It was an unusually beautiful painting of an ice cream cone on a small cardboard canvas. As I walked by and saw what she had made, I immediately stopped to admire her work. Just as I started to comment on it, she picked up a paintbrush and covered the entire thing with black paint.

“Nooooo” I gasped, and she looked up at me in surprise. I caught myself overreacting, pulled it together, and smiled. Secretly, however, I was crushed that she had ruined her beautiful piece of art. I wanted to save it. I wanted to celebrate her wonderful work of art by hanging it up on the wall. I wanted her parents to see it too. But instead, I was left wondering to myself, “Why did she decide to ruin it?”

That’s the interesting thing about young children. As a general rule, young children don’t set out to ruin a work of art. Instead, they set out to explore a process. Whether they are exploring drawing, painting, gluing, cutting or other forms of art, their focus is on the experience of creating and they keep going until it’s a big mess.

In contrast, adults can’t help but focus on the results of creating. We love colorful lines and shapes over big brown blobs. We enjoy seeing sweet designs made by the hands of a child hanging up on our walls or refrigerators. We celebrate the “good” art by hanging it up on the wall and toss the “blobs” in the trash when the children aren’t looking.

The fact that adults desire beautiful art isn’t a bad thing. Beautiful designs and brilliant colors inspire us to keep introducing all kinds of art experiences to our students. But it is important to understand that what we love about art is different than what children love about art. The difference in what inspires and ultimately motivates adults versus children is important to take note of.

Adults are inspired and motivated by the possible results of creative art while young children are interested in and motivated by the experience of creative art.

To wrap up this discussion, let’s go back to the opening question. Why do young children love ruining their artwork? You might tell me that all children’s art is beautiful but even my own students have no interest in hanging up their big brown blobs of finished artwork on the wall. They only want to hang up what they think looks beautiful. Confusing isn’t it?

Key Take-Away

Young children are not trying to ruin their art. They are focused on satisfying their need to experience art and to satisfy that need, something like a big brown blob can often be the result.

Now it’s your turn!

Take a second and share your take-aways or ideas in the comments below.

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