Monday, March 24, 2014

How To Keep Your Teen Interested in Art

I has a friend ask how to help keep her tween interested in his art assignments. I started a lengthy email back and realized it would make a great post for all my readers.

Visual art -- like any of the arts -- can sometimes seem boring and difficult. Especially in our culture filled with interactive screens, and plethora of instant gratification

There are a few common problems I have seen that come up when teaching older kids and teens art. Some of these (and some ideas to combat them) are below.

1.  "I just don't care about art"
Even though this is like a dagger in the heart for me, I can understand why kids feel this way.  I thought football was extremely boring until my husband helped me gain some background in it.  Now I see how it's fun! Here are some ideas to help your child care a bit more. 

--Art museum trips. Now, you have to be thoughtful when you take an art newbie to an art museum. Have a time limit (probably about 45 minutes) and only see the top 5-8 best works of art in the museum. Nothing is more boring to a teen then wandering mindlessly through a museum they don't care about with their mother. So choose really spectacular pieces to see and understand their story before you get there so you can explain really interesting and engaging things about them. Also, LEAVE before the newbie gets tired or bored. Then make a fun date out of it and get brunch, have a picnic, or stop for that child's very favorite treat. This will all help instill great feelings about art. 

--Have good quality art books around. Be sure to choose art books that are engaging to the age your child is. I LOVED the Norman Rockwell books my mom had in her studio and read, looked at and copied from those books for hours as a kid. Did I look at the Rembrandt books? Not really. But now his work is my favorite. Pollock and  Kandinsky probably won't be interesting to your child either (or anyone really for that matter) so don't bore them from the beginning.  Having these available and talking about the stories / artistic choices in the paintings will help spark their interest.

--Have choices and make the art choice seem more interesting. Ok, so your teen is resisting working on their art project? Tell them they can either do the dishes or draw. Let them know that their Shakespeare essay is waiting for them if they don't want to work on their art appreciation lesson. MOST kids will choose art over many things.  I sure started caring more about piano when my choice was piano or cleaning the house.

--Choose works of art for your child to study that could be interesting to them specifically.
If you have a girl who loves romantic or princess things, you might want to share with her the romantic and narrative works of Waterhouse,  or Edwin Austen Abbey.  Don't share David's Napoleon or war paintings. If you have a boy who really likes to figure things out, maybe share some paintings that have great details to understand or stories relevant to boys like works by Norman Rockwell, or J.C. Leyendecker.  Trying to get that boy to really love the color choice that Renoir uses in his ballet paintings isn't going to work so well.   Some kids love the story behind the paintings too.  If your kid like history, choose an artwork that has really interesting stories surrounding it and tell the story while the child works on drawing or painting. Many paintings have historical significance or interesting details about how their were done.  Lots of these stories can be found by just searching the good old internets.  Once they show interest in some aspect of an artist push it! Don't worry about other art for now.  Eventually they will be open to expanding their horizons a bit.  

2. "I just can't draw"
My biggest pet peeve is when people say they can't draw and they can only draw stick figures. It's probably the number one thing people say to me when they hear I'm an artist. Well, of course you can't draw if you have never practiced. Would you expect to pick up a violin with no lessons and spontaneously start playing a Paganini Caprice? No. Drawing is not some special, magical talent some are born with and others are not. It's a skill that needs to be learned, and developed just like any other skill. Some people do tend to pick it up quicker (just like some kids pick up how to kick a soccer ball a little faster then others) but that doesn't mean that others can't keep learning and getting better too. I have seen so many artists improve drastically with correct training and lots of practice. Everyone can draw if they learn how.

3. "Art is boring and has too much detail"
 Some kids rush through their art assignments simply to get through it. Of course this will cause sloppy work. Some ideas to help prevent this are: 

--Set a timer for each step.  Don't allow moving on to the next step until the timer is up and the step is complete. Sitting there staring at their page will get boring if they rush through the step and most kids will learn to slow down a little. 

-- Focus on one skill. Many times a child is overwhelmed by art assignments that are too difficult for their level. Step back and ask "is trying to get my 12 year old to replicate a painting by Matisse just too much?" Yes, it most likely is. There are so many difficult skills that are involved it is helpful to break it down. Focus on brush work -- fill a page with the same brush strikes Mattise used. Or focus on color. Spend the assignment just mixing up the same colors he used. Color matching is fun and surprisingly takes more time and skill then you think. But mainly, I would focus on ONLY drawing with ANY beginner. Asking a beginner artist to do anything else before becoming at least decent at drawing is like asking a horse to jump before it's learned to walk. Not going to be pretty.

-- Add a little competition. 
When teens get bored sometimes they need things to get a little more real. Maybe they won't be so sloppy and uncaring if they have a sibling or a friend who they are competing against for a prize. One of my art teachers awarded a prize to the best sketch done at home each week. We would put all our drawings up on the board for everyone to see and she would grade each drawing in front of everyone and award the prize. Oh man. My every thought throughout the week was how to get my drawing to be chosen as the winning drawing.  Competition is a great motivator sometimes.

4.  "I'm never going to use art--it won't be my career-- so why should I learn about it?"

Well, it is true that there aren't many professions that will expect you to know how to layer oil paints versus watercolors, or expect you to know why the Mona Lisa was significant. But, you can help your teen understand that being an overall cultured person will help them significantly in their quality of life. Being well versed in the arts will help develop friendships, help in having quality conversations with other intelligent and cultured people, and can help determine what significant relationships will happen in your life. What intelligent, high quality, educated person wants to spend their life with someone who can only talk about sports, and daytime television?  I would argue that being an accomplished, well-rounded and cultured person is more important than learning just one single technical skill.  That's the whole idea behind a liberal-arts education.

And my last piece of advice-- Always end on a good note!  If your child seems excited and happy about their work (even if just for a second) stop right there.  Don't let them continue. Ending on good feelings will hold over to your next lesson and is worth much more then a fully finished drawing.  Pushing to the point of frustration and tears means you might have done a bit too much.

Do you have any ideas on how to help your child appreciate art or do better with their artwork? Or any questions?  I'd love to hear them!

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