Why is art/drawing an important part of education?
There are countless benefits to learning to draw. For example, students learn to:
- slow down and ‘see’ things, becoming better observers of the world around them;
- be curious, appreciate beauty, marvel, examine, wonder, be inspired;
- strengthen fine motor skills while strengthening their minds;
- effectively communicate and/or express truth, beauty, and goodness through art; and
- press through challenges.
What if my child simply doesn’t enjoy art, or has never been good at it?
Students who claim that they do not enjoy art are usually experiencing discouragement or frustration. They may assume that they lack talent or ability. The concept of artistic ‘talent’ is largely a myth, since drawing well is primarily a learned skill that requires instruction and practice. The more students learn and practice, the better they become at drawing, which tends to lead to greater sense of enjoyment.
What is classical art education and how does a classical approach differ from what is offered in public schools?
Most public school art programs do not give young children guided instruction in drawing and instead offer projects that emphasize free expression and exploration. The initial focus of a classical art education is on skill development and this begins with drawing, since drawing provides a solid foundation for other forms of artistic expression. A classically-based art education program does not diminish the importance of creativity and personal expression; it simply recognizes the importance of teaching art fundamentals. Once the universal principles of drawing are understood, students are better equipped to expand into other media and to express themselves artistically.
The practice of “Master Copy” – learning through emulation – is central to a classical art education program. This approach has been used for centuries to teach and train art students. As the student engages in both master copy and working from life, their style develops from a combination of tradition and principles that are learned through experience. Even in copying the work of the masters, students develop their own individualized styles.
Is classical art instruction appropriate for younger children?
In short, yes! Children engage both in symbolic drawing (i.e., abstract or “stick-figure drawing) and representational drawing (drawing that aims to be more realistic) for different reasons and there are benefits to both practices. The following explains the primary differences between symbolic and representational drawing.
Symbolic drawing is a natural experience that all children engage in between about the age of two and eight to ten. Symbols are used to represent objects or feelings. This type of drawing is to be encouraged since it relates to communication, self-expression, and language patterns. Most children naturally stop drawing this way by the age of eight or nine.
Representational drawing is something that must be taught, as only the rare child will learn how to draw representationally on their own. As with any skill such as learning to play an instrument, writing a story, or playing a sport, children require guided instruction in order to master drawing fundamentals before they can become creatively independent. Unless they are provided with the necessary tools to draw representationally before they stop drawing symbolically, they tend to assume that they do not have the ability to draw realistically. The closer they get to the preteen years, the more likely they are to resist drawing. Those students who are given guidance in representational drawing when they are younger will continue to develop their drawing skills, are more likely to enjoy drawing throughout their lives, and may well apply their drawing skills to other artistic endeavours.
It is important to realize that children can engage in both symbolic and realistic drawings simultaneously without either activity interrupting the benefits of the other. Children as young as four years of age may be ready to begin learning some basics of representational drawing if they show interest and are able to focus, while other children may not show much interest or readiness until they are nine or ten (Note: the timing of the shift between symbolic and representational drawing is not related to intelligence).
If your child is between the ages of six and eight, please do not fret if they do not seem entirely ready for representational drawing. Children can usually hold information at this age, but still have trouble being visually focused. Encourage them in their drawing, but try not to force things if they are struggling or resisting. The important thing is that they are being exposed to new information in class and will be better equipped when they make the shift towards representational drawing. Do let me know if your child is having difficulty completing the assignments.
Students will usually opportunity at the beginning of class to voluntarily share where they recently observed beauty. The purpose of this practice is to encourage students to be more attuned to, and appreciative of, the things they see in the world around them. This will be followed by instructional time, in which new drawing concepts, skills, and techniques are introduced. Finally, students will be given time to practice a new skill or technique through a quick in-class study or exercise. Follow-up work/assignments are to be completed at home.
How can I support my child in the art program?
- Encourage regular practice at home. Students in Grades 3-6 should aim to spend at least 30 minutes per week practicing the skills/techniques taught in class, and the expectation for students in Grades 7-9 is 60 minutes per week. Rhetoric students should be spending approximately 3 hours on each (bi-weekly lesson).
- Ensure that students are keeping on top of assigned projects up-to-date. Students in Grades 3-9 should keep all of their artwork in one book (any at-home assignments that are done on loose paper can be glued into this book)
- Ensure that your student is equipped for class with their drawing book, pencils, and eraser.
- Assure students that the goal of drawing is not perfection. Students who learn to play a musical instrument can expect to hit some ‘off’ notes while practicing, yet learning to draw often comes with unrealistic expectations. If your child dislikes something they have done, resist the urge to talk them into liking it, as this can rob them of the ability to solve problems, take risks, and enjoy the process of learning. Instead, it can be helpful to ask them the following types of questions:
- Are there aspects of your drawing that you are pleased with? Which aspects don’t you like?
- If an artist does five drawings, how many do you think they will like well enough to frame or show people? [the answer is one, maybe two!]
- Why do you think you have to like everything you do?
- If you do five drawings this week, how many of them can you expect to like very well?