Children and Art

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Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. (John Dewey)

Jackson Pollock painting, Spring 2008

You may have picked up on our new-found enthusiasm for Blue Baillett’s Chasing Vermeer. It has a lot going for it. After reading the books, my kids became very interested in Pentaminos and we ordered a class pack so each child has their own. We’ve checked out some books on Vermeer, and they’ve tried (in vain) to get me to buy the $20 art book from Borders. They may succeed yet. They’re also trying to get me to use my Swagbucks to buy Lo! by Charles Fort. Most of all, we’ve had some great discussions about art.

What is art?

Who decides what is art and what is not?

Can anyone be an artist?

Must art be man-made?

Who decides if art is good or not? How should art be judged? Should art be judged?

I love having these conversations with my kids. Children are such heavy thinkers, and it doesn’t take much to encourage them to dig a little deeper, go a little further, think a little harder. Being able to articulate those thoughts is such a useful skill, and one I definitely want to encourage.

Philosophy for children– thinking about thinking– is such an interesting topic. Piaget thought they couldn’t do it, at least not before age 12 or so. While I’m normally right there with Piaget, my experiences with my own children tell me he seriously underestimated children’s cognitive abilities on this one. My own children have asked some pretty profound questions. I don’t think it’s just my kids, either. Given the space and the encouragement, I’ve overheard these conversations take place with other people’s children as well.

It’s one of the things I like most about homeschooling, having the time and space to follow these “rabbit trails” of thought. I love that my kids feel comfortable enough ask questions, and that I have the wiggle room in my curriculum to encourage philosophical ways of thinking. It’s not that I don’t think these conversations can’t ever happen in a more institutionalized setting, but I think it’s much less likely and a lot more difficult. And I do think that sometimes group settings work best when children don’t ask questions or engage in too much critical thinking.

Which, to come full circle, is another thing we liked about this book. Ms. Hussey, the young and vibrant teacher, seems to be channeling John Dewey. This book led us not only to discuss art, but the nature of education itself. We loved John Dewey’s philosophy of learning by doing and the idea that “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

More info on Philosophy and Children:
Teaching Children Philosophy
Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children
Center for Philosophy for Children

Thinking Education

Philosophy Slam