Encourage a Budding Artist
Picasso, Degas and Monet, oh my! You trot these names out in front of a bunch of preteens and you can almost watch their eyes glaze over. But it doesn't have to be that way. Art is an exciting expression of human nature and culture, and if you can communicate that excitement to a preteenager, you just might have an art convert.
Getting your preteen excited about art may be as easy as visiting an art museum. If you remember museums as being old and dusty, than you haven't been to one lately! Most museums are far more people-friendly and interactive than they used to be. The Portland Art Museum in Portland, Ore., offers art classes, school tours and art making programs for middle schoolers. They also feature Museum Family Sundays and Family Drop Ins.
Julie Perko, art specialist at the Portland Art Museum, believes that the first step in raising art-friendly preteens is being art-friendly ourselves, both at home and in our schools. "If we do not show our children that we value art by taking them to museums and offering art making at school, they will not value it either," she says. "Most parents are not comfortable enough with the arts to be the sole inspiration for their children; therefore, we definitely need the schools to be involved."
One way the schools are involved is by offering various art programs such as the Young Rembrandts Program. Young Rembrandts is part of a national franchise whose curriculum is based on enhancing overall academic success through the teaching of art skills, and has been available for the last 10 years. Bette Fetter is the president and founder of Young Rembrandts. She believes that the love of art must begin at home. "Children look to their parents to see what they find interesting and worth their attention, so art appreciation structured as family outings has a great impact on children," Fetter says. "Plan family outings to local museums, local art fairs, even the art store to find some new art materials to explore with."
There are many different art field trips you can take as a family. Fetter suggests that you take your child to see a variety of art mediums such as monuments, sculptures, historic home tours and Historic Society events, as well as architectural tours of significant buildings and landmarks in your area. "You can even plan weekend family outings to other cities to explore new museums and art events," she says. "Libraries are full of books on specific artists. Bring home one new book each library trip and explore the works of a new artist together."
Fetter believes that parents often feel inadequate in regard to their understanding of art, so they may let those feelings keep them from exploring art with their children. "Remember, you can observe and learn together," she says. "Art museums often conduct tours for adults and children together, and this is a wonderful vehicle for you to learn more as individuals and as a family."
If your child is interested in art classes, you can often find some good ones by contacting your local art league or art supply store for referrals in your area. You can also check the yellow pages for independent art studios that offer student classes. "Always provide a variety of materials for your children to explore with at home, while simultaneously enrolling them in more structured class settings," Fetter says. "Remember that any new skill we desire to develop takes training, and that certainly applies in developing one's artistic abilities!"
Kirsten Giddings Beard is the founding visual art teacher for the Atlanta Girls' School in Atlanta, Ga. She believes that preteens can be discouraged from liking art when their exploration is limited in some way. "Children are turned off of art when they think they are not good at it," she says. "It is important for children to realize that they can learn how to create art and explore different mediums for expression." Beard believes that a child can have difficulty with clay but develop a passion for oils and brushes. Parents should let their child experiment with unconditional support to find a good niche for them.
Of course, sometimes you find that your preteen has fallen in love with art, and it becomes their world. Joyce Anthony of Erie, Pa., can attest to this. Her 12-year-old son, Shane, eats, sleeps and dreams art. His passion began at a young age, and it's one that Anthony has always encouraged because of the benefits. "Art is important because it helps a child learn to think abstractly and develop hand-eye coordination," she says. "It also teaches a child to learn to brainstorm, because you tell them to draw something and then allow them to decide what – it helps them learn to make decisions in a safe environment."
Anthony believes that art has given her son a sense of self-confidence, a method for expressing his feelings and a chance to develop the creative side of his personality – areas in which many boys are not confident. "Shane has asked if he can attend art school instead of college and is interested in designing of all types," she says. "I can see him as an architect or painter, but whatever he chooses, Shane will always surround himself with beauty of his own creation."
Who knows? By encouraging your preteen's interest in art you may be introducing them to a passion that will inspire them for the rest of their lives. Even if they do not become the next young Matisse or Renoir, art can give them a deeper understanding of human nature that will last the rest of their lives.