The Perfect Picture

Why do we try our upmost hardest to create a perfect picture? Why are we sometimes teaching our children to be perfect with their art?

It’s a rainy day and you’re looking for some arty activities. Or your class topic is about animals, so up pops a search engine or Pinterest for some visual ideas. What can they create? Ooo…this looks good, an animal paper plate mask. You get prepared by printing out pre-drawn outlines or cutting out templates, so the art looks perfect, etc. I see this so much with themed activities, calendars and celebratory cards.

If you work with children, we have all been in this situation. I’ll hold my hands in the air…yes…I certainly have. But do you question about why everything looks the same on the display board when they create something? Or that the cutting out looks perfect…who are you trying to please? Is this art?

If you type into Google, ‘art definition,’ it pops up with, ‘the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’

So here are some questions to think about, breaking down this definition.

Are your children using their creative skill and imagination if they are copying someone else’s art product idea?

Are your children producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power, if the children are creating someone else’s artwork idea?

Does your class artwork all look the same or looks too much like the source image?

Are your children using their imagination and emotional power?

Are you teaching your child to have prefect creations?

The imagination and emotions are powerful tools for art, but do children use it enough? Do children make choices with the tools they wish to use depending on their vision or emotions during that time? Do your children take risks and make mistakes with their art, but allowed to try again, practising what they have learnt? Do you allow your children talk about their work with you or others, discussing their techniques, emotions and visions?

Arguably, recreating someone else’s craft idea, doesn’t really give the child scope to be fully creative. Yes it may look good, but are they using their imagination and emotion to their highest capacity?

From experience, I have witnessed children and adults get really frustrated that their drawings or paintings do not look like a ‘perfect’ replica of a reference photograph or still life. The eraser is used more than the drawing tool itself! Or they want to give up half way through (this is known as an 'ugly duckling stage', but I will discuss this further another time).

Some people call it perfectionism. I am not sure whether perfectionism is in our wiring but I am sure if we are keep drip feeding our children to create these perfect products, I believe that this can hinder their risk taking with art as they put up the front that it’s not any good. Personally, I am trying to retrain my mind not to be a perfectionist. Rowan Atkinson hit the nail on the head during a recent documentary when he stated that,

“People say, oh it’s marvellous, he’s a perfectionist. I don’t regard perfectionism as a particularly admirable quality…I think it’s more of a disease than a quality because it’s very debilitating. It’s very draining…sometimes I’ve got to get to the point where literally I can’t be bothered to do any more takes and maybe take 18 is better than 5…but usually it isn’t.”

I love this statement. It answered so many questions about me, but also through watching others. I have spent so many times rewriting, redrawing and repainting where the perfectionism voice says, “It’s not good enough.” It takes so much of my time…it is draining.

However the biggest factor for our children is that it could possibly take so much of their self-confidence.

“I can’t draw.”

How many of you say that phrase, I can’t draw? Do you say this to your children or to your class when you’re demonstrating? Do you say you cannot read, or cannot write? EVERYONE CAN DRAW. To write you need to be able to draw (children look at me funny when I say writing is drawing...well you are making marks with straight and curvy lines!). I feel that some people’s perception of drawing is to have a perfect product.

We have to remember, art isn’t about creating something perfect. It is about creativity, expression, imagination and emotion.

Art is about a process not a product.

Children need to explore and play with art processes: exploring how media, materials and tools work, understanding how tools can be held in various ways to create different effects and how changes in pressure to create different types of marks. But above all they need to relax and enjoy the journey. Yes, as an adult you may look at the work and think it’s not tidy or it doesn’t look how you see it. But remember it is how the young artist is feeling and seeing it in their minds. If you are unsure what the drawing is, ask the child to talk about their art story rather than asking them,” What have you drawn? What is it?”

You may have seen on my Instagram stories that I have been playing around with continuous line drawings, drawing to music, drawing snippets from paused music videos, just making marks with my paints and exploring colour mixing and watercolour techniques....and I’ve placed a time on their too: 5 minutes or so. That’s all it takes. Positively, it’s helping me to relax, loosen up, enjoy art more, practise drawing skills and play about with techniques. It’s not a product. It is a process. They don’t look anything special, but these small processes will all help with the development of well-being, confidence, observation and learning to draw and paint.

Why don’t you try it with your children or your class…they may find it strange to begin with, but the more they practise, the more it will become second nature. Hopefully, it will allow them to become more relaxed and looser with their drawings and above all, more confidence with art.

So think about the questions above. How can you use more imagination, emotion, creativity and expression when teaching your children art rather than copying someone’s idea?

I will leave you with this thought. With recent chat with self belief coach Sally Hardie, she made me think about perfectionism.

Who do I want to be? Who does your child want to be? Allow yourself or your child to be scared, take risks and explore through their art.

"Rather being unconfident because of a desire for perfection, instead be confident in imperfection."

"Working with art is in the mental health arena…the last thing you need to teach others is perfection."

Reference links:

ITV (2021) Happy Birthday Mr Bean <> 10th January 8pm

Sally Hardie - Instagram @sallyhardie_coach

(None of the links have been affiliated in any way)


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