Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that “every artist was first an amateur,” and while we all know what he meant, I like to think that, in art, there are no amateurs. The beauty of art and the creative process is just that: anyone can do it. All you need is your imagination and a set of brushes. Or pencils. Or even just a pile of leaves and some sticks.
There is no right way to create art. No note you have to hit, no key you have to press. It’s only natural then that children as young as toddlers like nothing better than doodling and crafts of all kinds.
There is no greater gift one can give a child than the gift of confidence. We all know the shy kid who goes to great lengths to blend into the woodwork, who sits on the sidelines and quietly observes the world go by. The story inside that child is no less fascinating than the one inside the gregarious, outspoken one. Only it’s hidden from our eyes and ears. That is until you give that child a piece of paper and some markers.
My favorite art-related quote is by Horace and it goes like this: “a picture is a poem without words.” To me, that’s the most perfect way to capture the essence of art. There are many things children feel and see and think but can’t quite articulate or verbalize. It can be so hard to put feelings into words sometimes, so frustrating to try and make people understand, so scary to reveal the world inside you, particularly if you fear it may be different from the worlds of others -- quirky, unusual, quaint or unexpected. Not everyone fits in the same box – with art, one doesn’t need to.
You know how sometimes we adults just need to vent to someone or write our thoughts down to feel better? Well, children struggle, too. It may come in the form of tears or tantrums or a withdrawal into oneself but behind all that is fear or anxiety or sensory overload. Art therapy has long proven to be extremely beneficial and its healing powers are amazing.
When I was a little girl, my mom would tell me to recount my bad dreams with the cold water running. That way, she’d say, the scary, sad things will go down the drain and the nightmare will never come true.
Drawing a picture or creating something out of clay can help a child express whatever is troubling them. When put on paper, things often seem less scary and more approachable.
Art is not just about developing fine motor skills and learning to be patient, it is about discovering that everyone sees things differently and not all things are what they appear.
It is about learning that the possibilities are endless and that there is no one right way to do things. It is a lesson many of us still haven’t learned as adults. We are so hard on ourselves, constantly berating ourselves for every little thing that we’ve been conditioned to perceive as a mistake. If you show encouragement to a child of three or four no matter what they draw or how orange their crocodile is looking, you can teach them a much more valuable lesson than just that of creative freedom: you can teach them that there is no wrong way to be.
There is nothing more beautiful than a child’s imagination, that pure pool of creativity and wonder that has not yet been tainted by adult judgment. Watching a child create without the self-consciousness that we unfortunately develop as we get older is a wonderful thing. So many magical creatures, so many incredible color combinations and so much emotion, raw and undiluted by rules or standards or any of those silly things we tend to care about when we grow up.
You will never see a toddler question a blue pig or a two-headed giraffe. They accept the world any way it presents itself to them. They believe that nothing is impossible and that in itself is a beautiful thing.
Art is so versatile and diverse, it teaches you acceptance and kindness and inclusiveness. It opens your mind and nourishes your spirit. You can be anyone but, most importantly, you can be you.
There is creative energy inside every one of us and what can be a better outlet for it than art, where you can be silly and serious, spend hours perfecting that one brushstroke because it is that important to you or dip your toes into a can of paint and stomp all over the floor leaving a trail of fun designs behind.
So, from the troubled teenager unable to cope with the myriad of his or her emotions and what he or she perceives as circumstances of great strain and torment to the happy-as-a-clam toddler who sees the world in technicolor and notices the magic that only makes an appearance for the very young to the shy little boy or girl who is filled to the brim with stories of wee faeries and dancing blue goats and great adventures and love and a fierce belief in all that is good and noble, they all can benefit from art.
Your child has a story to tell you and I promise you its unique beauty will take your breath away. Help them set that story free. Introduce them to the amazing world of art and creativity and watch them blossom and giggle and flourish. There is so much joy and self-discovery in art.
There are no amateurs in art. Every piece of art is a thing of beauty because it is a reflection of the artist’s soul. Connecting with oneself and being able to hear one’s voice is such a gift, the sooner we are given it, the better. Children were made for art – the profound beauty and deep meaning of it, the richness of its colors and its extraordinary healing power.