I'm a graphic designer with an office at home, so my two-year-old son spends a great deal of time coveting my art supplies and I feel guilty every time I shoo him away for making a mess or interrupting my work, knowing I should do more to foster his creative impulses. But a few weeks ago when I actually did let him collaborate with me on a painting, I was surprised by how much I gained from the experience.
One of the most important things I've learned about art over the years is to enjoy the process as much as (or more than) the final result — an idea that children inherently understand and adults (myself very much included) easily forget. The principal applies to many of the disciplines that kids enjoy: music, cooking, dance, performance, writing. Surrealist artists and writers invented a game in the 1920s where they would each draw part of an image or write a few sentences on a piece of paper, then fold it over hiding their work and pass it on to the next person to continue the story or drawing — the result could be wonderful, terrible or hilarious, but the fun is in wondering what will happen.
This was more or less the direction I took when I collaborated with my toddler. We took turns: I painted some, then stepped back and let him go crazy doing whatever he wanted, no matter how messy it got, then I painted some more. It was amazing to see how happy and expressive he was with the paint and equally refreshing to let go and not worry about what the final piece would look like. In the end, we not only love the painting which hangs in our entryway, but that my son can look at it and know he was a part of making it happen.
Image: Sarah Rainwater