All that Glitter

Artistic kids revel in self-expression

By Krista Threefoot

Any parent who has had to sort through their child’s preschool artwork can be forgiven for resenting Pablo Picasso and his famous quote that “every child is an artist.” 

This may be true, but he left out a few important facts: every child artist is prolific, messy and can locate your stash of Sharpies no matter where you hide them.

Somewhere in our attic I have a box with approximately 200 drawings of human stick figures. Paint and permanent marker have stained our kitchen table so deeply even acetone can’t remove their marks. I’m still vacuuming eight years’ worth of glitter from our carpets. Samples from my children’s artistic oeuvres wallpaper our home.  

I’m not complaining—and I do take Picasso’s words to heart. He’s right. Children are artists, because they see the world through artist’s eyes. Their fresh perspective allows them to notice details and draw unique conclusions about what they observe. 

For example, when my younger daughter was 6, she asked to sketch a portrait of me. She sat herself down across from me studio-style, working earnestly, with a goal of accuracy. The resulting picture included my smile lines, forehead wrinkles and under-eye circles. 

I spent the next hour researching Botox, but I was still impressed. It didn’t occur to her that people expect portraits to be flattering. She drew what she saw: her mom, exactly as she was—a tired, middle-aged woman.

When children create art, they expose us to a universe that is still new and unexplored. Their insights of everything from nature to the words we use come from the perspective of someone who is still learning what adults already know. 

I experienced this recently with my other daughter. Her art teacher had selected one of my daughter’s works for the Hello I am…exhibit at the Columbia Art Center, which featured autobiographical artwork on poster-sized replicas of name badges. Some kids drew self-portraits, but most used decorative lettering to form a word they felt described them—artist, poet, reader, athlete, sister and so on. My daughter’s piece read, “Hello I am… PSYCHO!” in stark black, psychedelic bubble letters.

Fortunately for all of us, her definition of psycho is “hyper and silly,” not “speaks to corpses and stabs people in motel room showers.” 

For several years I have worked as chairperson for a PTA art competition that challenges kids to reflect on a theme and interpret it through various forms of art. Just like my daughter’s understanding of the word psycho, their perceptions never fail to inspire or amuse me. 

The 2018 theme was Heroes Around Me. Among our submissions were a story about a tree that fought pollution ninja-style, and another about a princess who rebelled against her oppressive parents by making friends and teaching manners to an evil witch. 

One kindergartener painted his teacher during a lockdown drill—she was a hero for making them feel safe in a scary situation. A second-grader drew her mom with nine arms, doing everything, and explained that we all have at least one heroic moment in our lives. 

Previous years’ entries have been just as charming. Within Reach brought us a story about a cat who stole a gift from his enemy, the dog, got for his grandmother, because being within reach is a defining characteristic of stolen object. For The World Would Be a Better Place If… we got a cereal-box replica of SpongeBob, because the world would be better if everyone were as kind as he. 

These gems of self-expression are worth developing, and we have numerous opportunities in our area to help our children do just that.

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore offers free drop-in workshops for children every Saturday and Sunday, 11-4. The Visionary Art Museum has monthly walk-in workshops, which cost $5 per participant. The Howard County Art Council and the Columbia Art Center offer classes in a variety of media for everyone in the family. 

Kids can explore computer-based design and filmmaking at IdeaLab, a STEM-based learning center. Musical Theatrix and Drama Learning Center stage year-round theater classes and camps. At School of Rock and Olenka School of Music, children can take instrumental and voice lessons. Visual art classes are available through Howard County Recreation and Parks in partnership with Abrakadoodle and KidzArt. 

And make sure to mark you calendar for the Columbia Festival of the Arts, June 14-30, which has free art activities in everything from dance to writing, in addition to some stellar shows. 

My family has participated in many of these programs, and we’ve benefitted greatly. And the best part is that the mess stays out of our house. It’s much easier to value the artist within our children when glitter and glue sticks are out of the picture.

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