It’s Nothing, Really, Just Abstract

The Power of One: Art Smarts
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

There are few things more wonderful than a child’s creativity. Daisy recently crafted this family portrait from a kit of felt pieces that includes many more children and babies, cats and dogs. Usually her scenes are complicated affairs, large families with scads of children lined up in rows. I love the sparse, crisp quality of this little trio. I find it interesting that the girl is shown angling toward the mother. The mother, in turn, seems to lean away from the father’s hand-hold towards her little one.

Like most kids, Daisy likes to draw flowers, frogs and ducks, and the occasional rainbow, but people really are her ‘forte.’ These days, influenced by her Kindergarten friends, princesses are all the rage, replete with towering tiaras, wide billowy pink skirts, and pocketbooks festooned with plentiful bows.

This family portrait, on a magnetic doodle pad, is from about a year ago. I love that we all have big smiles on our faces. Here the child is sandwiched between her parents. Granted, she is closer to the mom (females are made up of a single blob of a dress, while males have a top and a bottom, like a shirt and shorts). Arms, apparently, are optional!

One of the luxuries of having an only child is the ability to focus on art activities together. There is no crying baby needing a diaper change right when the paints have come out, or an older child waiting to be driven to soccer practice when glitter is all over the floor. I dance a secret jig when Daisy asks to do an art project: other kids would rather toss a ball or watch a video. I’m just so happy she enjoys art as much as I do. Personally, I just love the smell of poster paints, the aroma of a new box of crayons, the feel of play-dough, and peeling dried glue off of my hands.

When Daisy was smaller, we somehow came across Susan Striker and her book about fostering creativity in children. This link from the Artful Parent, a wonderful blog about doing art with young children, sets it all out nicely.

In short, your child’s imagination should decide how art materials are used; never draw, paint, or write on a child’s artwork; never point out similarities to realistic objects or even show a child how to draw. Striker suggests not entertaining a child by making realistic pictures yourself, and never ask, “what is it?” Instead, praise use of color or design. And, the biggie: never give a child coloring books or dot-to-dots.

Of course, nothing beats reading Susan Striker’s book, Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art. I recommend it highly, although you need to take what works for you, and put some of it on the back burner. Adhering blindly to her philosophy without flexibility could prove exasperating. When Daisy wants to color in the coloring books at our local food co-op, providing me with fifteen minutes of shopping freedom, I am not going to say no And I can even imagine Striker’s dismay at my allowing Daisy to play with pre-cut felt pieces — I suspect she would want Daisy to cut out from felt the people and their outfits herself.

Whether or not we can credit Susan Striker, Daisy’s creativity is boundless. She is a master at thinking outside the box. At a local museum’s family day, kids were filling bottles with different colors of sand. Each bottle was turning out quite nice, but all the bottles looked vaguely similar. Daisy decided instead to take the extra sand that was on the table, mix it together, and put that mixture into her bottle. Inspired, she then began making different combinations out of all the available sand colors. Her bottle, when finished, was truly unique. Other kids looked on in awe, and then they too began to create mixtures and experiment.

I must admit it took Daisy longer to paint and draw recognizable objects, and her pre-school teachers showed concern that she wasn’t making faces and people. Perhaps it was because I didn’t draw people for her to copy, but I think it was she just enjoyed scribbling, the feel of a crayon in her hand, the experience of color, the process of creating. Even now she still likes to doodle away — one time I asked her about a particularly ebullient painting, and she said, “it’s nothing, really, just abstract.” I love that she knows what abstract means, at age five. I think she’s doing just fine.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

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