This post will explain the difference between process-based art and product-and why process-based art experiences are so important for young children. Our writer is Lauren Cline, who, along with being a teacher, wife, and mommy to a very active toddler, is also the owner of a company called Delight-N-Art.
We often hear of process-vs-product people. Who are they, what does that mean, and exactly what does it have to do with art? Knowing the difference is very important for both parents and educators. As a Pre-K teacher and the owner of a business that offers preschool art enrichment classes, encouraging the creative art process is a part of my everyday routine.
Product people are often perfectionists—they create perfectly-formed products whether the product is a report or a picture of the sunset. Process people, on the other hand, are into the “doing” of a thing—selecting the colors, the right paper, or font, or page layout. They may spend more time on these elements and arrive at something far less “perfect” than their product-based colleague.
We all know product-based art—that’s when every child in class brings home a particular “thing” as a result of the day’s art lesson. Sometimes we call this type of art “cookie cutter,” because everything looks pretty much the same.
Product-based art is great when the goals are clear—reinforcing step-by-step instructions, for instance. The end product illustrates the lesson as opposed to being an expression of the child’s view of the lesson. Arts and craft stores abound with pre-cut foam, kits, and coloring books that will, in the end, result in product-based art. These have their place, but they do little to invoke children’s imagination. Product art has an objective—a specific goal—toward which everyone is working. Because the goal is clear, the results should be clear, too—and fairly similar.
As a teacher, I used to think that perfection was the goal I sought for my students believing that it would reflect positively on me as a teacher. I quickly learned that parents would rather see lopsided eyes and tails where the hand is supposed to be on their child’s animal craft. Who doesn’t love a sweet paper plate ladybug, or a tissue paper angel? I love it when my daughter brings home work like this, but the truth is, her “original” art—the scribbles and marker messes—are the ones hanging in our art space at home.
Product art is goal oriented. Process art is open ended, child centered, and allows for imagination and creativity. The process is the focus rather than the end result or product.
Here are a few examples of process-based art:
· Mixing paint colors
· Clay and dough play
· Finger painting
· Scribbling and crayon drawing
· Ink and paint prints
· Cutting with scissors
· Tearing paper
Process based art is important for young children because it fosters creativity, self-expression, and problem solving skills. Allowing children to choose where they take their art is very powerful. In my classroom, I try to encourage my students to think about all the possibilities when creating their art. Just today, I had my class make rabbits in celebration of the upcoming Easter holiday. We all sat around the table and brainstormed how we could create a rabbit. We talked about the shapes that make up a rabbit’s body and the different materials we could use to create one. Some wanted to make their bunny’s eyes using markers while others wanted to cut out eyes from construction paper. One child wanted his bunny to be white while others chose colors like orange, purple, and black. In the end, they all created their own unique rabbit.
You may be thinking—well my child doesn’t even know how to use scissors or glue so how can he participate in this type of art? At our house, we have a tub full of art supplies including paints, markers, crayons, paper, and other craft supplies. My two-year-old daughter is extremely curious and loves to just paint using her watercolor set. Sometimes, I will pull out some construction paper and let her help me cut shapes, and then I let her glue them down. These types of activities do not have to be very involved. They can be as simple as saying to your toddler, let’s paint a horse today, and then letting him paint. In the end it probably will not look like a horse to you, but to your child, it is the most beautiful horse he has ever seen.
Having a “hands off” approach when working on process based art is important. Being a control freak myself, this is sometimes even difficult for me. So, if you are working on a thematic lesson and everyone is supposed to make monsters, give them the supplies needed, and step back. More than likely, they will ask you for help drawing a body or making an arm. I always encourage my students to try first, and then I might make a suggestion if they are still having trouble. Allowing children to use their imagination, create without guidelines, and even mess up will teach them much more than just giving them a precut drawing of a monster and asking them to decorate it.
My daughter and I have truly been blessed to be a part of a preschool that encourages early childhood art education. I love walking around the building seeing all the creative art on the walls. If you want to know more about the art that is hanging up or being sent home from your child’s school, just ask your child’s teacher. If you have older children, make sure to say things like, “tell more about your picture, ” or “I really like colors you used.”
Whether your child is experimenting with paper and glue or paint and texture, he will be learning. But more important, he is having fun—art is supposed to be fun. Too many restrictions can cause children to shy away from making art. No less an artist than Pablo Picasso gave us the following challenge, “All children are artists. The problem is how to (let him) remain an artist once he grows up.”