“Never work with children or animals,” advised W.C. Fields, and this adage has achieved both fame and agreement in much of the show-business world. Artists might reasonably feel the same way – after all, you might think that having children in the studio is more likely to end with streaks of paint decorating the walls and your favorite brush ruined than in any real benefit for either you or the young people you invited. However, there’s a serious argument to be made that working with children can be a great benefit to your artistic career.
In this article, we will go over all of the advantages that artists can gain through working with children, the tangible benefits that children receive from this process, and the opportunities that you can pursue in your own artistic career to help with this.
The Advantages of Working with Children
It may seem like teaching and working with children may be only serving others, but there are actually many personal benefits to this type of work.
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It may sound cynical to look for “advantages” for giving back to your local area or other communities around the world, but there are certainly plenty of them. Especially when you volunteer or work with a local organization, you create a lifelong bond to the families in your area and especially the organizations who you are supporting. Not only are you keeping your name tied to more organizations (and thus raising your profile in the web and in the news), you’re also portraying yourself as a caring, passionate person. And, of course, by taking on the role of a teacher, you’re raising your status as an artist. Are you an amateur? No, you’re an expert. It may sound superficial, but these terms do affect how people perceive you, and thus how they perceive your art.
Overcome Artistic Dry Spells
Working on your own self-enforced schedule can often lead to dry spells in which you simply cannot motivate yourself to create. The biggest obstacle to overcoming this self doubt and creative blockage is losing inertia. That’s when it can really save your morale to have an external factor forcing you to stay active. Working with kids, you’re obligated to follow somebody else’s schedule; you have no choice but to keep going. Maybe you aren’t creating your next masterpiece, but you are staying artistic, and you’ll find yourself out of your funk in no time.
What better way to keep yourself familiar with all of the artistic techniques and media than by teaching it to students? In your own artistic practice, you may limit yourself to one medium and style, but in the classroom, you are forced to stay artistically versatile. The education process will have you going through the steps over and over again, learning your craft inside and out; that’s when you start to notice different details or make new connections.
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Have you ever needed to think out loud with someone else? Find that your thoughts only make sense when you explain them? This is a real strategy used in many fields to generate new ideas. Teachers often say that they learn as much as they teach, and the process of explanation makes it easier to retain more information. This is true in most open interactions between adults and younger people, because when you simplify your thoughts for a child to understand, you can more easily understand them yourself!
In fact, any scenario in which an artist can experience their work through the eyes of someone new can be extremely beneficial. It can be tempting to rely on a standard style or technique, never taking time for reflection, self-analysis, or continued learning. However, this will lead to artistic stagnation and, ultimately, frustration. When you take the time to plan a lesson or explain something to a young student – a blank slate – you also take the time to consider your own sources of inspiration, your knowledge of art history, and what you can share with other people, which is a very worthwhile activity. It allows you to re-evaluate what you know and how you use this information in your own artistic endeavors.
The Creativity Of Your Inner Child
Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” This remark has become a classic piece of advice to all creatives; it is a challenge to rediscover the wonder and creativity that is a natural part of childhood, and to bring that into your works as a mature, skilled artist. What better way to reconnect with your younger self than to work with children and experience art through their eyes? How often do you hear how important it is for artists to experiment in order to nurture and redefine their artistic styles? It’s been proven time and time again: when you allow yourself to remain open to new possibilities, you will grow as an artist and discover things about yourself and your art that you’d never imagined.
“Young people often possess a strong energy and a creativity that many people lose as time goes by and they grow older,” said artist and teacher Anders Hafsbrandt. Although it can be difficult to put words to your feelings, many younger artists or students find it less intimidating or overwhelming to allow their emotions and instinct to naturally take form, whether in sculpture, paint, or even photography. Although that flow of creativity may seem to come more easily to our younger selves, Hafsbrandt pointed out that all artists possess that youthful mentality, and for him, “working with teenagers keeps my thinking young and alert, and I feel that we have a lot to learn from each other.”
Children have long supplied extraordinary and unusual ideas for artists who are tiring of traditional subject matter. Artist Kasper Dyrvig Randorff decided to base his own works on the artistic and creative talents of young children. Inspired by the forms and figures of children’s drawings, Kasper’s works “aesthetically interpret a child’s world, preserving their inherent truth, naiveté and honesty” – taken from his official press release Says Kasper, “I see the work as a silent dialogue between the adult’s interpreting eye and the children’s fabulous fantasy world.” Many artists have turned the child’s imagination in order to create innovative and unique works, such as Wendy Tsao who turns children’s drawings into plush toys or Dave Devries who adds a professional touch to children’s drawings.
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How Exposure to Art Can Help Children
Sure, there are plenty of reasons that benefit you, but what about the kids? MOCHA, the Museum of Children’s Arts, talks about the importance of art in helping children to develop their talents and potential to the best of their ability. The results of creative engagement with young people have been profound. MOCHA has found that “students improve skills in critical-thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and communication. They develop a great deal of confidence and self-esteem from the experience of accomplishing a project and being able to talk about their process with their peers.”
Recent studies have shown that integrating arts into the core curriculum can be directly linked to overall changes in student engagement and achievement. The National Art Education Association (NAEA), Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD), and other arts education organizations have spent years gathering information and studying the impact of the arts on students both young and old. Recent AEMDD projects, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, have documented “gains in academic achievement” in students involved in “arts-integrated teaching and learning” compared to their peers.
What Can You Do to Get Involved?
There are a number of different ways that artists can get involved with children in the arts. Working through an organization, like a school or a local art museum, is a good option, if you feel that you’d like that sense of structure to underlie your efforts. Schools are usually happy to welcome any help that is offered when it comes to increasing the amount of exposure to art their students can expect. Restrictions on time and resources mean that teachers may often be uncomfortably aware of the limitations that exist in arts education and appreciate assistance when trying to inspire their students to take on art projects. Whether you want to offer to help take groups to the local art museum, or whether you’d prefer to advise uncertain teachers about the options that might work for them, or act as an assistant in the classroom when it comes to art classes, or even lead a class or recess activity yourself, there are a variety of options involving different levels of engagement.
If you’re interested in teaching an art class at a school, hospital, foundation, or other arts organization, the best thing is to simply reach out and see if they’d be interested in your services. Many schools and hospitals already have arts programs set up but if your local schools/hospitals do not, try to set one up! You can be at the forefront of a new era in your town. If you would prefer to work with an organization or foundation already based in the arts, there are hundreds of arts organizations around the world who are constantly looking for artists who want to help their mission.
Many of Agora Gallery’s represented artists have had the opportunity to work with youth around the world teaching, painting, and overall having a good time:
- Fariba Baghi, a long-time member of Agora’s family of artists, started teaching painting to a group of children in Toronto. The artist says the classes are fun, but her little students learned and now master some of the most important basic techniques. She says that sometimes she chooses the theme for her little students, but often they are allowed to create whatever they want and are even encouraged to create their own organic color.
- James R. Chisholm, an artist who has taught art professionally for many years explains his approach: “I aim for my students to become exposed to a number of working methods, and hope that they will be wholly comfortable and engaged in whatever kind of process they choose. In this way, they can find the fulfillment I achieve through art – on both an aesthetic and an emotional level.”
- Mando, who has worked with Take Action Leadership Camp (a program from the well known Me to We organization), used her artistic talents to help young artists learn how their art can impact social justice at the week-long program, “Arts and Activism.”
- Artist Liz Wilson has taught art classes to both children, teens, and adults with Upward Bound, a national program for underprivileged youth, and Main Street Art, an arts program for people with disabilities.
- Ghass Rouzkhosh has both donated and sold his artworks for Children at Risk and other charity organizations as well as personally working with young children in Morocco.
If you don’t feel that you are ready to interact with children on a regular basis, you can also:
- Volunteer for or donate to art-involved children’s charities
- Donate artworks to art auctions run by children’s art charities
- Offer a piece of art to a children’s ward in a hospital or similar location
- Volunteer to get involved in the creation of a piece of artwork (or even a mural) for a relevant organization or school
- If you’re looking for something a little more laid back and aren’t interested in working with children, it can always be fun and beneficial to get involved in an adult painting class. There are programs in hospitals, mental health facilities, and even adult painting parties have become an extremely popular weekend activity to get those creative juices flowing. Pinot’s Palette is one popular group with locations all over the U.S., so if kids just aren’t your thing, check out these adult classes!
Whatever you do, do it right – think about what kind of involvement you’d like to have with children or young people, and what you’d want to get out of the experience, and then plan accordingly.
Betsey Chesler, a former Agora Gallery artist and founder of the Cameras for Kids Foundation, which Agora Gallery has been proud to support, started the foundation to work hands-on with kids placed in foster care, giving them “the opportunity to have a camera and learn basic concepts of art and photography while fostering self esteem, self confidence and offering a skill set.” She has described first hand how working with children to develop their photographic skills and perspective can have a major impact on their self-confidence and abilities. She calls the foundation’s program “a gift for life to a deserving child.”
Art to Heart, a popular arts program that offers courses to both children and adults, has been created solely around the idea that human freedom is strongest when applied to the creative qualities buried within each of us. Unleashing this power “is necessary for the child to build up her/his own existence.” But the benefits aren’t only applicable to the children: teaching or participating in art courses encourages the adult artist “to learn to let go.” Art to Heart says, “It is not about being able to ‘do art,’ it is about opening up, having a go at things, and being flexible.”
Art Start has found that when children are given an outlet for expression through something creative, like art or music, they feel “free to build trusting relationships with our teaching artists naturally, learning to open up and bond in ways not possible through the social service or traditional education model.” Art Start’s workshops for at-risk youth allow these kids to collaborate with local teaching artists and educators. They give local 17-20 year old emerging artists the resources to support their talents with career-counseling, courses, networking, and various other opportunities. On top of all of that, they also have a homeless youth and youth offender outreach program.
Overall, getting involved with an organization, charity, school or any other group can be fun and filled with great experiences for both you and the people who you work with. Added to all this, of course, is the knowledge that you are doing something valuable, helping to share the beauty and power of art, and the feelings of inspiration and fulfillment that come with creative activity. In a small way, when you share your passion with children, you are helping to shape the future. And you never know what fruit your efforts might bring forth. Perhaps the skills, the passion, and the confidence that you helped that one young person discover will have an impact on their life journey. You’ll never know – unless you try.
Looking to enhance your career and build a presence in New York? Submit your portfolio to us and get the opportunity to present your work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.
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