Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ART "The Product - A Celebration of Process"

I  love it when another professional really challenges me to re-think and contemplate my belief system. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Dan Hodgins speak at the MiAEYC Conference last week in Grand Rapids.  Since his session, I have seriously been contemplating "the process."

Dan challenges us to make our practices match our belief system. You can read more from Dan here.

Dan says.... If we really truly believe in the importance of process.... We NEVER send home art projects....

I am really struggling with this thought.  I am a firm believer in the importance of process. I have worked with not only children, but also with adults as they work through artistic processes.  Art is a process, and so is life. We are continually doing, changing, adding, and moving on.

But.... I think that there are times when the product has importance too. I don't think that it has nearly the same amount of importance as the process, but in my mind it does have value.

What if we thought more of the product as a celebration of the process. I know that for children it may not be as developmentally appropriate, but it is a "touch stone" (thanks CA :). It helps us to remember the process. I know that children live in the "now" and may not hold the same thought patterns that we as adults do. However, I think that there is some value in using the product as a memory of the process.

I also think that the "product" is a valuable tool in documenting the process. Through open ended art, children have the freedom to express themselves. They take the time to choose materials and to determine their own process.
Ultimately, "the product" is partial documentation of that process. When paired with photos, the product can provide evidence of a child's learning.

A "product" sent home to parents provides an avenue for communication, and a tangible piece of "evidence" for their child's learning and progress. Have you ever looked at the continuum of art for a child? Watched how their process and products have changed through time?

In my mind, the dissonance will need to be resolved. I don't think that agree that art is all about the process. I believe that the process is more important than the product, but I will continue to send art projects home.

But, what I will change is how I talk about art. In order to resolve the dissonance and maintain my integrity (matching my walk to my talk...) I will continue to promote art as being a process, but also note that when we celebrate the process and truly allow people to experience and explore, we have a wonderful gift in the resulting product.
Art then, is about freedom. It is about having the opportunity to make your own choices- choosing your own paper, colors, and tools. It is about mixing mediums and experimenting.  Most important it is about having a space where anything is possible and there are no prescribed outcomes.

Art is an opportunity for children to make their own lines.....
Where they can choose to color in, out, or all around. The only boundaries are their own.
How then, do we accomplish the celebration of process????
We provide children with materials.
We allow them to make all of the decisions, and we don't drive the product.
We are their to support the children's needs. This means our job is to replenish supplies and move art from the creating area to the drying area.
It also means that when we talk to children about their work, we don't talk about what we think the product looks like. We make statements about what the child is doing, or reflections on actual things we saw them do. We don't give value to the product- we allow the children to own and give value to it. "Do you like my painting?" is a question that can be redirected, "Why don't you tell me about your painting?" or "I noticed that you really spent a lot of time on that."

We provide an opportunity for children to share their journey by allowing them to show others "how to" create certain outcomes. They show each other what happens when they use different tools.

Through the entire process, each individual child still has the opportunity to choose. They control their own process, discovery, and ultimately product.

Each piece completely different from the next, even though they were created side by side.

Thank you Dan, for making me think. While I can appreciate your viewpoint, I do not completely agree with it.

I can however change the way in which I articulate my beliefs in order to maintain my integrity.

Although the process is extremely important, I also think it is important for us to recognize the product as celebration of that process.

(I also think that there is value in craft, but know that there is a MAJOR difference between art and craft)


StrongStart said...

I agree with you that there is value in the product but to me that is if the child places the value there. The program that I facilitate is a drop in for children birth to 5 and they have to be accompanied by an adult (be it parent, grandparent, caregiver or other).

Many, many times the art work never goes home.
I'm slowly seeing a change at the art table by how the parents are involved. And I think it's because of how the materials or idea is presented.

Last December I read an article from the blog Not Just Cute about Intention Deficit Disorder and realized I wasn't communicating my goals for each project to the children or the grown ups so I've started to write a list of what a child may learn when doing a project and things the adult could talk about with their child.

Here is an example from a craft

Recently our local ECE group invited an art specialist in on "How to talk with your child about their art". As you said talk about what you see not what you like. Talk about the elements of art - dimensions, shapes, line, colour, etc. In that way you are helping the child learn about art.
And at my centre, modeling for the parents.

Deborah said...

Wow - you have really written such a valuable and wonderful article. I am in agreement with you 100 percent. I want the process to be the priority in all we do in the preschool classroom but I do believe that there can be a product that comes from a well thought out, well implemented, freedom to explore and express oneself process-based activity.

Artwork is often a way we do connect with parents as well. Parents need to and want to see what their children are doing. What a child brings home can often be the catalyst of conversation between parents and children as well as the connector between school and home.

Yes - we can and should promote communication through other means as well but I don't believe that we should get into the mindset that art is only to be experienced and never admired or shared.

And what about the teachers role? I believe that children are capable of learning new techniques, new information, new ideas, new concepts. Yes - they will and should learn through valuable experiences but I believe that teachers can guide children into new ways of doing, new ways of thinking, and new ways of experiencing as they explore the process.

No need for me to rewrite what you have already and so thoughtfully written and besides - I might mess it up! I really appreciate all the thought and time you have taken to share your thoughts on this topic. I really could go on and on though! LOL!

Ticia said...

It is so hard sometimes to just let it be about the process, but man are they excited when it is.

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

Thanks for your insight Maureen. One of the things I LOVE about this profession is the networking and information sharing. I love to challenge my current practices and beliefs and to work toward making things better for the children around me. I don't send art work home every day, but I do like to send it home and display it. I'm not sure that I agree with you on goals. Other than allowing the children to use and experiment with materials without boundaries. I'll have to see if I can find that article from Not Just Cute. I do think that true art does need to be open ended without any goals or imposed expectations. It will be interesting to read.

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

Deborah- I am very reluctant in the process of art to model. However, during craft or projects I find opportunities to do so. I have found that allowing the children to experiment and model for each other has been best. Sometimes I think that as a teacher I can over think their process and jump in without giving them the opportunity to truly learn and discover on their own. I have learned to really "W.A.I.T." - ask myself... Why Am I Talking? and leave the talking and modeling to the other children. As they observe each other and think about the tools, they often teach me things! I could go on and on too!

@Ticia, the more you allow yourself to "let go" and relinquish control the easier it is to let it be about the process.

Frances said...

I'm not an educator, just a mom, but I am a professional artist...and I'm with you. Art has to be about both process and product -- even the most ephemeral of contemporary art has some documentation. But lots of kids art is by nature temporary (sidewalk chalk, anyone?) and that's great. But my little guy is so proud of his product, even if he erases it immediately after showing me, I couldn't deprive him of that.

Art might be different from craft, but good art involves craft (ie, the skill) and good craft can be art...

rachelle | tinkerlab said...

Hi Amy! This post is wonderful, and so well-articulated. As an art educator, I couldn't agree with you more, and as a parent I really appreciate seeing evidence of my child's learning through the art that she brings home. When I look at these pieces I can see what she's been up to at school, but I've noticed that she rarely speaks about them. I assume it's because she was invested in the process, without the expectation that the work would be saved and displayed. And I see the same thing at home. She sometimes wants to hang onto a piece for a day or two, but quickly forgets about it in favor of the next big experiment. Do you see this with your students too? My daughter is 33 months, so it may also be her age. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

@Frances- yes, there is a strong connection between art and craft. It is a fine line and I'm not always sure exactly how to articulate my belief in that area. Children tend to live in the "now," they have not yet mastered the abstract idea of time. Much of the art that they produce can be temporary. It just depends on what materials you provide to them.

@Rachelle, I think it very much depends on the child and their development. Sometimes when the children try out a new process, they are super excited about it and have wonderful stories to share with their parents about what we did. (Again, the piece of work sent home reminds them of what they "did") I think it is VERY important that we are mindful of how we react and talk about the product though so that we are still focused on the process of that product "How did you do this?"/"Tell me about this" versus "What is this?" We can very quickly and easily mold and model a mindset that is more product orientated. I love to keep a portfolio of my son's work. (He wants to keep everything he does.) We started giving him sketchbooks at a very early age. It is fun to go through and look at the progression of his process and development of his skills. I also have an "art gallery" on my walls. I often mat the children's work on poster board and allow them to give it a name or description. I print off labels that include the child's name and age along with the description/title and the medium(s) used. I don't think the children have ever talked about the art display in terms of the "product" when they look at it. I hear a lot of "Can we do that again?" (Notice the focus on the action, the doing, the process). The product really does help them remember the process!

Anonymous said...

Such a great discussion. I can absolutely see both sides but agree that the product often has importance too. I see that in the pride my daughter shows when she pulls something out of her backpack that she has made and wants to show me. I also love the way you describe how we can talk about the product (and process) with our children. So important how we phrase those questions and what we chose to ask.
Love when speakers can not only inspire and challenge us but keep us thinking and discussing long after the talk is over.

Centers and Circle Time said...

First, I just wanted to poke at Frances who say's she "just a mom". Mom's are the very first educators and do most of the teaching before the child ever gets to preschool.

Second, I most certainly love this article as a parent and a preschool teacher. I have art in frames from when my children were little and people still come to our house and comment on our our beautiful art work. As my children have gotten older I appreciate their willingness to talk about "Art" class and all the materials they were able to use. It is certainly one of the ways we can communicate with each other.

In my classroom we celebrate the process and enjoy doing so, but when it's all done it's usually on display for parents, teachers, and other students to admire. I send our creations home each Friday, and we just enjoy starting the "process" all over again!

rachelle | tinkerlab said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. What you say about children referring back to their work in terms of its process (i.e. "Let's do that again!") is so helpful. It's certainly how I think about it, and it helps to have your perspective as an early child educator. In my experience as an arts educator, it's not until children are a bit older that I began to hear pride in the artwork as an aesthetic object. have a great day!

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful post! I think the most important thing is that you were challenged to really DEFINE what your beliefs actually are! As teachers, I think this is the most important thing we can do, since we clearly learn and grow and refine our beliefs and what we are actually doing with the children! I often use large photos of the children engaged in the process of art right next to children's artwork. I agree with you that seeing the product offers a way to extend learning, create connections and encourage communication! Thanks for making me think about what my beliefs on this subject are as well!

Country Fun said...

Great post and wonderful comments following. I agree that it is about the process, but there are also times when the product is important. For me the product is not the initial reason why we do the art, but can show what has been learned in the doing. Child in my care only take home what they wish to. It is often interesting what they place personal value on. That's a learning point for me.
Thank you for posting on this.

Mozi Esme said...

I like your idea of the product being the "celebration of the process!"

Instinctively I place a lot of value on the product, so have had to "train" myself to focus on the process - but we still do frame items, put them on the fridge, etc. And my daughter beams when she's complimented on them. However, for some reason she usually resists letting me frame them - she'd rather play with them, sleep with them, take care of them? :)

Teacher Tom said...

I'm catching up on my blog reading and I'm sure glad I did, Amy!

I've traditionally sent everything the kids make home, but in the crush of things that seem more important, I've sent almost nothing home this year. The strange part is that not a single parent has complained. Maybe they're so well versed in the "process" orientation that they don't expect anything.

Between us teachers here, I must confess that as much as I love making art with children, and as much as I like reflecting on the process, I really don't like the drying, storing, saving, sorting . . . I'm quite pleased to learn that sending it home is NOT expected of me.

Naturally, the kids can always choose to put things in their cubbies to take home, but for the time being at least, I seem to be out of the curating business.

Great post! A lot to think about! Thanks.

Unknown said...

How did I miss this post Amy? It is wonderful! WE don't send stuff home with the kids, but they often choose to put things in their lockers themselves. I think that when they do this it is something they really value, and then it should go home with them. I'm also with you in believing that sometimes the product is important - there are times when a child has worked on something for ages, overcome certain obstacles or mastered a skill and they are almost bursting with pride at their own accomplishments. I believe that to be able to share this with their parents is such a valuable exercise.

Jeanne Zuech said...

Yes, Yes, Yes. Love the discussion and thinking around valuing process for young children and art (and blocks, and writing, and theory making!).

I am a supporter of children being the meaning makers of their work while the educator facilitates and documents. With that said, I believe skill specific explorations are important to offer so that children have an opportunity to understand the "tools" of art: HOW these particular pens could work, HOW this glue might be squeezed or scraped, HOW these scissors feel comfortable in our hands. The children then have familiarity with the tools used for their own processes and experiments in a deeper way.

Amy, I think you have really opened up a discussion on Intentional Teaching - all of us exploring the WHY of what we are doing. Surely, there is room for product art IF the intention by the teacher still values the individual child to make their own choices within the project :)

Heather @ PreschoolBuddy said...

I love the way you describe working with the children. Placing focus on the way they do their art and not evaluating the art itself. I hope my son's teachers are the same way.

My friend died

 I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.  He was mentor, a friend, and a "bone shaker" for many of us in the field of Early Ch...