While attending our annual statewide conference, I participated in a workshop about the value of process focused art experiences for young children. The instructor invited us into a conference room with a wide variety of art materials scattered on the table top: ribbon, glue, string, wood pieces, scissors, varied papers, and stickers.
In her introduction, she offered us each an index card and a color reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. She asked us to draw it on our index cards. While we were drawing, she reminded us to make it look as much like it as possible, and to finish up in five minutes. There was a lot of chatter and giggles, even a little bit of whining. Then she asked us to write down how the assignment made us feel, upon request and as we worked.
The overall theme was stressed, pressured, inadequate, and a sense of an unrealistic expectation. We discussed this for quite some time, and then transitioned to another activity.
Eventually it was time for another task, and this time the assignment was less focused: “It’s time to use the materials on the table. Feel free to open closed packages, use materials in any way you’d like, take your time.” Some participants reached for materials that they had been eyeing since we first arrived, while others explored first. The room was very quiet, and slowly, some conversations arose, though they were low key and focused.
When the instructor saw that we were all finishing up, she asked us how we were doing and if we needed more time. After a few more minutes, she opened the floor up for discussion. How did this assignment feel, upon request and while working?
The responses from participants included: relaxed, peaceful, excited, happy, fun, trusted, respected, and lucky. So what does this all mean?
There is a wonderful handout from our instructor Laurel Bongiorno of Champlain College that highlights the main differences between product and process focused art:
There is a place and time for both types of art, but we must be clear about our objective. For example, is the goal to teach the children how to follow directions, use new vocabulary, or practice using scissors? Is the objective self-expression? Or maybe is it for the purpose of sensory input? We must be thoughtful as to our objectives, and keep in mind how those objectives make children feel. Feeling rushed, pressured, and frustrated is never my goal.