TEACHING YOUNG CHILDREN | VOL. 7 NO. 4
ANNIE CONNER AND JAIMIE HAWKS-MALCZYNSKI
Teacher Jaime invites 4-year-old Connor to the art table to work on a painting project.
“Connor, can you make a picture using the paints here?”
“No,” Connor says. “I can’t do it right, and my mommy won’t like it.”
“There is no right or wrong way to make art, Connor. You can paint whatever you like and it will be wonderful. It doesn’t have to look like anything real. We call that abstract art!”
As preschool teachers and art lovers, we are eager to expose the children to different forms and processes of art. We were surprised to find how many children were reluctant to try the daily art activity. They worried about messing up, making a mistake, or doing it the wrong way. We wanted to help the children find joy in creating art, free from fear, so we decided to focus on abstract art.
Most preschoolers are graduating from the drawing stage often referred to as scribbling and are moving on to creating shapes and line drawings. They start to combine shapes and lines to form pictures of something specific. Soon they move on to further develop their work and to create recognizable forms and images. However, some children are so fearful of failure that they struggle to enjoy the process of creating.
Why expose children to abstract art?
Abstract art may seem like a difficult topic to discuss in a preschool classroom, but it is a perfect way to get children excited about art. Unlike representational art—which is intended to look like something recognizable (This is a picture of a flower)—abstract art isn’t meant to resemble anything. It looks and feels different to each person. Abstract art can encourage children to talk about their ideas, learn about different opinions, and begin to understand someone else’s perspective. Abstract art can also connect to other topics, such as math and language. Children learn new colors, shapes, and vocabulary words.
Introducing abstract art
Pick an artist. We started by focusing on abstract artists well known to us. We chose artists we felt the children could connect with and be excited by, painters whose art is colorful and inviting. One class of 3-year-olds learned about Wassily Kandinsky. Another class of 4- and 5-year-olds learned about Jackson Pollock. We chose these two artists because we were most familiar with their work. Teachers can pick any abstract artist they are interested in or they feel children will connect with.
Show examples. In each classroom we posted prints of the artist’s work that we found online and posters we borrowed from the school’s art teacher. We also showed the children some short video clips of the artist at work.
Discuss the art. After a few days, we started talking with the children to learn what they thought about the art. In one class, Chloe, who had just been to France, saw the Eiffel Tower hidden in a painting. Gene, whose father is an engineer, insisted that the hidden picture was really a rocket. When we compared the painting with photos of the Eiffel Tower and a rocket, both children saw what the other had seen. They didn’t give up their original ideas, but for just a moment they took the other’s perspective. Discussions like this were common in both classrooms.
Consider the creative process. To wrap up our discussions, we asked the children how they thought the artist created his masterpiece. The children had definite ideas and were excited to demonstrate how Pollock must have flung his paintbrush through the air.
Make abstract art. After the discussions and analysis of the artwork, the children could see that each piece was unique and beautiful, even though it didn’t resemble anything real. They were ready to create their own Pollock- or Kandinsky-inspired masterpieces!
Connor, who had been uncomfortable during art activities, loved learning about Kandinsky. He enjoyed finding hidden pictures in the artist’s works and then creating his own pieces. When we ran out of the canvas and paper he was using, Connor moved to the writing table and continued to create abstract art using paper and colored pencils. Long after the unit had ended, his enthusiasm for art remained. At the end of the unit, we displayed all the children’s paintings in an art show. Connor proudly showed his paintings to his mom—and she loved them. TYC
Make Art Inspired by...
Set out large canvas frames or large pieces of heavyweight watercolor paper in an area where paint can be flung freely. Provide cups of colorful paint that has been watered down so that the paint drips easily from the brush without compromising the quality of the paint. Offer a long-handled paintbrush for each color of paint. Long-sleeved button-down shirts worn backward make great full-body smocks. Let the children express themselves as they fling paint onto their canvases!
Set out small canvas frames or heavyweight watercolor paper. Encourage the children to draw simple shapes and lines using only a fine-tipped black marker or black crayon. Remind them to work slowly and think about what they’re drawing. What hidden pictures do they see? Later, have the children paint over their drawings with watercolors.
Composition, canvas, expressionism, balance, geometric, action painting, line, color, shape, space, fling, pour
Use these questions to get children thinking about this art activity.
How does this painting make you feel?
What does this picture make you think about?
How do you think the artist created this piece of art?
What shapes can you find in this picture?
Why do you think the artist chose these colors and shapes?
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, by Eric Carle
Come Look With Me: Exploring Modern Art, by Jessica Noelani Wright
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Jackson Pollock on His Process.” www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/250
Video. “Kandinsky Drawing 1926.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8yk1Z1224o