How NOT to talk to a child about art

Uncategorized Jul 03, 2021

If you haven’t already made the connection between one of my favorite subjects to paint, and my family, allow me to introduce you to Xia. Currently, she’s five. She’s been drawing since she was two, and painting since she was three on easels. On professional, double mast easels.

 (The video above is from last year)

Xia has her own art studio. We don’t call it a play room because honestly, there are more art supplies in it than toys. She has two “adult” easels and a large rack and closet full of mostly non-kiddie art and craft materials. She loves to paint in acrylics, watercolors, and especially loves the magic of color mixing. You won’t find her works bleed into mud. She’s a stickler for keeping clean color segments. Xia is not fond of crayons, but prefers markers. She hasn’t been crazy over colored pencils either. She tends to lean towards easy gliding materials.


Xia, 3, loves using my palette knives

With that said, let’s talk about HOW NOT TO TALK TO A CHILD ABOUT ART.


One of the non-safety rules we have in this house regarding art is you are not allowed to judge the other person’s art. If they’re doing something dangerous or using a tool inappropriately, call them out on it. But you may NOT say you don’t like their artwork at a table of 5 year olds or “you’re doing it wrong.” We’re not at that stage of being able to politely critique or constructive criticism just yet….. One day.


Xia went to half day dance camp this past week. Dancing, arts and crafts, and fun were promised. On the second day I picked her up, she got in the car, and visibly was upset.


“Mommy, my teacher told me not to scribble. Scribbling isn’t art. I drew a portrait of you.”


I’m sorry. What?


She’s five. In a dance camp. NOT IN ART SCHOOL.


Xia's crayon drawing of me

I apologized to her telling her that teacher should not have said that. Scribbling is in fact a legitimate art form, and there is a polite way to disagree with her teacher should this arise again. Xia takes criticism VERY deeply.


The final day of dance camp arrives. I pick her up. She’s chipper and gets in the car showing me her crafts. She gets to the paper and her face changes.


“Mommy, my other teacher told me ‘scribbling is NOT art.’ I drew a portrait of you, Daddy, and me.”


Xia's family portrait (Xia on the left holding my hand, me holding Daddy's hand). Note that we have been through two floods in our home, which I find interesting that she choose to color the top right blue. I love her smiles as she draws herself. 

She was upset. I should also note if she’s given a line drawing she doesn’t like, she’s going to flip it over and make her own drawing. She was given two pieces of paper that looked like JoJo Siwa. We’re not fans.


She always starts out loose when she’s drawing. We do that when painting, too. I had to re-affirm that her art was incredible, and thoughtfully done. And help her little heart heal up. Scribbling is art. I told her those teachers were wrong to tell her otherwise. And I’m sorry that happened.


Scribbling is an art form. It’s an appreciated art form. And it’s sold for quite a bit of money in the art world. Don’t believe me? Look at this by Cy Twombly! Artists have used scribbling either as an exercise, to add texture, to get their “wiggles out” or as a finished piece. These artists have used it in a genius form! Erick Centeno, Liz Y Ahmet, and Vince Low.


Most adults I talk to in workshops, or in general, say they can only draw stick figures. This makes Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop so appealing because of the cloning features. But it makes me think someone a long time ago told them scribbling wasn’t art, or harshly criticized their doodles at a young age. Betty Edwards talks about this in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.


To summarize, never criticize a child’s artwork. Don’t squash that freedom they have to explore and try new techniques, raw expressions. If you want someone that’s a creative thinker, cultivate the arts when they’re young! Now, if they’re painting someone’s face with acrylic, yeah, step in.


But don’t you dare tell them “scribbling isn’t an art form.”


Xia and her imaginary friends (some are animals, and bugs) 

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