At the beginning of every school year, when I faced my elementary-aged students, one child would always raise their hand and say, "Just so you know, Ms. Katz, I'm not good at art."
Of course my goal was to convince them otherwise. But then I started wondering WHY they believed that.
Kids are often expected to make art that looks exactly like everyone else’s. This happens when lesson plans are product-focused, which means the emphasis is on the final image. It can begin with a teacher holding up a thing they saw on Pinterest and announcing, “This is what we’re going to make today.” The child’s success is then determined by whether they could make that thing. This is where the frustration begins.
Not every child creates in the same way. Some kids love to paint, others love to construct. Some kids have rich imaginations, others are keenly observant. If we don't support our children's creative differences, they will believe that when their art looks different, then they aren't good at art.
"Process art" however, is when art education is based on experimentation and exploration. It’s a way to celebrate all creative results. Instead of saying, “Today we are making this snowman” a teacher can say, “Today we are going to make art about winter” and then discuss with the kids what that brings up for them. Instead of saying, "This is what we are going to make," it helps to say, "Let's see what happens when we try this." It’s a tone that is both inviting and suspenseful.
A child being led through product-focused art will likely say, "I'm done" when they’ve made the expected result. But a child engaged in process-driven art will often ask, "Can I make another one?" because there’s always something new to discover on the page.
Assessment during process-driven art education is based on the child's engagement with the theme, creative use of materials, collaborations with peers, and participation in class discussions.
Setting parameters that help a child reach certain learning goals is ideal (such as how to mix color or vary lines) but ultimately the child is the artist. Unexpected outcomes are a sign that real exploration occurred.
As a professional artist, I'm happy to admit that for every drawing I share with the world, there are pages of sketches that I don't. Everyday I challenge myself as an artist. I experiment and make decisions and erase and redraw and observe and push through. The end product that the world sees is a result of my process. My commitment to the process is what makes me an artist.