{Art Together} Choosing Projects

(Apologies for posting a day late with this series this week. The events in Boston, a favorite city of ours and one that is so close to home, left me shaken.)

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“Crafts have a value, of course…But such activities shouldn’t be called ‘art’ and shouldn’t substitute for an art program…I make my own distinction between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ by asking how much participation by an adult is needed once I have presented materials.” –Bev Bos, don’t move the muffin tins

Choosing to focus on art as a process, rather than on a finished product, can feel uncomfortable. We are surrounded by images of adorable kid-made crafts: in magazines, in blogs, all over Pinterest. Part of us maybe wants to show what our kids can do too. Or maybe we want an activity that seems to have a beginning, middle, and end. Or perhaps—and this isn’t uncommon in my house—we see something that we think one of our kids would really like to make. How can we embark on an activity with a product outcome yet still emphasize the process?

Firstly, I admit, I don’t look to Pinterest for many ideas, and this is mainly because if we’re going to do something more directed, I’d rather it be directed by my children’s desires, not my own. We often look to books (I am working on a book list to share). We all can look through books and if something catches our eye, we’ll do it. The other benefit to books is that I’m mostly the one choosing the books to bring into the house, so I can control whether they are more product-oriented or process-oriented.

I like art books that offer direction for a technique and some inspiration, but serve mainly as a starting point without dictating the end point. This goes for adult art and craft books, too. I don’t want to follow step-by-step instructions to re-create someone else’s vision; I want to be given the tools to create my OWN vision. What I want for myself, I want for my kids. And just like we share all the materials, we share the books too. Some of our best activities and process-based explorations have been prompted by books aimed for an adult audience.

Sometimes, though, in my internet travels, I come across an idea, or am reminded of a resource we already have, and I think it might be a fun activity for us. In that case, I ask the kids. “Hey, look at this, do you want to try something like this?” I’m careful about trying not to show them finished products. If we embark on activities that result in a finished “thing,” it’s going to be an activity that has room for everybody’s finished thing to look different. This week, to try to show you how this works for us, I’m sharing our accordion books with you.

Volume Twelve of Alphabet Glue features an accordion book project, and Dawn blogged about it. When I saw it, I thought, Hmm, that looks like fun. While I have a copy of Alphabet Glue, I also have Esther K. Smith’s How to Make Books. (I highly recommend it.)  I showed the directions in the book to the kids and asked if they were interested. We decided to buy big watercolor paper—18×24”—and make good-sized books.

More decisions followed: Do you want to paint the paper before we fold it? Do you want to fold it and paint it before cutting? After cutting? What sort of paint? Everybody’s answers were different, because each of us has different ideas. My daughter didn’t want to paint at all. She had me make the book for her (the watercolor paper at that size is fairly thick and hard for small hands to fold) and then she sat and wrote letters on each page.

She thinks maybe she’ll add crayon decorations around the edges later.

My older son folded his, I cut it (with the x-acto knife), and then he began painting. He chose liquid watercolors and various techniques, including tape resist and salt, to add interest. He has these techniques in his mental catalog of ideas because we’ve played with them in the past.

My younger son had me fold but not cut his, and he added color to all the blocks before cutting. He also chose liquid watercolors and eventually decided to add some salt as well. The colors of the liquid watercolors are so vibrant.

I decided to fold but not cut and filled in all my blocks on both sides using tempera cake paint. I plan to doodle with a black Sharpie on my pages. I’m not sure what the boys will do in theirs. This project occupied my kids for more than two hours. They were all working at the same table, making their own decisions, sharing materials, and thoroughly engaged in their work. This is how we approach anything that seems more directed: by giving ownership to the individual.

Further Resources

I’ve written about the importance of process-based art here, here, and here.

If you just can’t keep away from Pinterest for ideas, try checking out Lori Pickert’s authentic art board.

Take it Further

Some other posts in which we’ve attempted to balance product and process:
Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner
Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns
Process to Product: Bookmarks for Teacher Gifts

Share Your Work

Reminder, if you have any photos of art-making going on at your house that you’d like to share, feel free to join the Flickr group.

11 thoughts on “{Art Together} Choosing Projects

  1. Francesca

    Interesting! with two of my kids, I’ve often had to follow art projects almost step by step, especially the end result – it was only when they felt that they could do it, that they had mastered the technique that they attempted to move away from guidelines.
    will be back tomorrow with our own “art together” :)

  2. Lori

    kids who have a background in process art can approach other people’s ideas (seen in craft books, for example) as jumping-off points. i think it’s when they come to “art” the other way ’round (from doing step-by-step crafts with an adult-made finished product as an example) that they have trouble. by then, they’re hooked on doing things the “right” way and making theirs look just like the sample. boo.

    great post!

  3. Sunny

    Thanks for your post. I admit that I *love* to look at pinterest and have pinned tons of stuff, but mostly it’s for ideas and inspiration. I think even when there is a “craft” aspect to things (dd had to make a diorama), the final creation was up to her. I am not an “art person”, but I love to create. I think this falls in your category of processed-based and hope to pass it on to my kids!

    1. amy Post author

      Pinterest is *very* attractive…I don’t blame anyone for being drawn to it!! I think creativity is to be valued no matter how it expresses itself. I would argue that loving to create does make you an art person, with a chosen medium of [whatever you like to create!] And yes, I think it’s super important for kids to see us engaging in whatever it is we enjoy. When they see us creating something, it becomes a norm, right? They absorb the idea that they can create things too, because they see it happening.

      One benefit, too, of experimenting with lots of different materials and techniques is that even someone who thinks they’re “not good at art” is bound to find something that strikes a chord. It might not be straight-up drawing, but maybe it’s collage or printmaking or wire sculpture…somewhere is the exact material that speaks to us most, we just have to make sure we find it. (But I am biased because I think we are all “art people” in one way or another!)

  4. donna lee

    I like the fact that the kids all made their own choices and got to design their own books. Each one is similar but oh so different. The colors are so vibrant! and what they chose to use them for is creative and so telling of each ones’s uniqueness.

  5. Mollie

    “If we embark on activities that result in a finished “thing,” it’s going to be an activity that has room for everybody’s finished thing to look different.” — This really resonates with me. I strive to make sure each student in my classroom has the skills to create something that is unique. It drives me crazy to see product based art where all of the products look identical. In that situation what you are seeing is the teacher’s work not the student’s. Sometimes it can be tough when trying to follow a curriculum but emphasizing process and originality is very important to me. Thanks for sharing some great ideas and resources!

    1. amy Post author

      Thank you for coming by and commenting! Yes, a display of nearly identical artwork makes me sad. I think classroom teachers definitely have challenges that I don’t face at home and keeping true to your philosophy can be harder… but not impossible. I’m looking forward to looking through your blog, Ms. K!

  6. Dawn Suzette

    So neat to see how the books evolved for each child. My little man wanted to try them different ways as well. The book from one sheet of paper is such a neat concept to work with.
    I don’t do Pinterest for ideas in terms of our project work or “crafts” for the kids. The process is just too organic for that… And in the past they always took my ideas and tweaked them anyway. I have learned to just provide materials & techniques and step back until requested! :-)

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