Updated: Jun 23, 2018
To anyone in the education or early education field, they likely know the difference between process and product art, but to anyone else, this just sounds like jargon and jibberish. I’m writing today to explain the difference between the two and why we as educators and as parents should strive for more process art.
So, let’s start off with a picture. Something cute that a child made for a holiday for Mother’s Day or something similar:
Now, no doubt that this is a really cute craft. Mothers everywhere would LOVE this! But the thing that you have to think about is: can a child that is under 4 years old TRULY make this on their own? (I’m not crafty with this kind of stuff but even mine wouldn’t looks as nice as that one!) So for caregivers and teachers to try and show young children how to make a craft like this… it doesn’t really make much sense. This is product/project art. The finished piece is meant to look like and/or do something.
See, the thing is, with a project like this, who are we pleasing or catering to? Who is getting something out of this project? The person receiving it, right? Not a bad thing. But meanwhile, back in the crafting station, the children making it are likely frustrated that they have to use this color and cut it that way and put this there and to have everyone make a cookie-cutter project. It needs to look and be and function like the model, which is beautiful but not really developentally-appropriate for young children to make.
Why, you might ask?
Well, speaking from my knowledge on children, their skills, and art in general, art is meant to be a creative form of expression, where nonsense and “seemingly nothing” can be created since it’s about the journey and the fun, not so much the finished product. Paint is meant to be squished, pressed, moved around, mixed with other colors, and techniques with fingers, brushes, and other items combined to form something unique and maybe nothing at all! Young children (even at 4 years old) still have very limited skills with drawing, creating “something” on their own, etc. They can likely color a paper plate that will then be turned into an octopus with streamers and etc. but if you had a child make the whole octopus you’d see their creativity be boundless and none of them would probably look like an octopus (but that’s art for ya!).
It can be good to have some product/project art for children to learn skills like using scissors, following directions, and learning about how to make/draw/do something. But for the most part, children under 5 years old (and arguably even children older than 5!) can benefit greatly from having some “free art” time to explore and learn using whatever medium or type of project you’re working on.
(Link to this cute project –> HERE)
Process Art, on the other hand is a harder concept to convey. Process art has only 1 goal: enjoyment. It doesn’t aim to make everyone’s project look the same, though there might be a general theme or colors used, it’s limitless with the boundaries or constraints that a child has to work within.
This particular art activity above had a goal in mind of making a finished project with hearts but the children were the ones to attach the hearts to the contact paper and then use colors and brushes to put color onto it. (This is super cute, might do this one!)
Some of my children’s favorite art creations have been when they make something that is 100% their own work. Once when my son was 1 year old, there was a piece where the provider drew a circle in the middle of a piece of paper, put glue stick glue on it, and then the children stuck square bits of tissue paper on it.
Another one that I did with the 1 year olds in my care was I cut out a large raindrop shape and then gave the children 3 colors (dark blue, light blue, and white) and q-tips in each color to paint with. They used their fingers, they used the q-tips, they used their hands, they LOVED this art and you can see each child’s creation as an individual experimenting with the medium (paint). You can tell which child dove right in and which one was tentative, which one had a preference for which color, which one used a lot of paint. These nuances show personality, character, and are lost in product/project art. I can recall how each child was painting on their piece. Fond memories of the cuteness of childhood.
Let them get messy, be explorers, and create boundlessly. Childhood is only so short, after all.