The Western Parent, Education and Learning Disabilities Awareness Issue,
2007 Vol 12 No. 1
Interview with Alice Helwig , Art Educator
By Ruth Spivak
Young children love
to draw; whether on paper, walls, or furniture, it is an activity that engages the mind, the senses, and the heart. Somewhere along the path of childhood the spontaneous drawings stop, and self-consciousness and insecurity replace the
former carefree attitudes of young drawers. Many adults (including me) are embarrassed
to even attempt an artistic rendition of an object or person. Why do most children
eventually stop drawing and become adults who are intimidated by their perceived lack of skill? Is this just a fact of human development, or are there underlying causes that lead to this arrest of artistic
growth? Is there anything that can be done to preserve uninhibited creativity
from childhood to adulthood?
Alice Helwig, who
has been an art educator for over 20 years, recognizes the phenomenon all too well.
She taught a class for adults entitled, “Drawing for the completely intimidated,” and presently continues
teaching drawing and painting for both kids and adults with the City of Calgary. Helwig,
a professional painter herself, shares her thoughts and experiences on the importance of encouraging young drawers to preserve
that sparkle of creativity and self-confidence for life.
WP: Why are young children so keen to draw and create?
Drawing is a natural
way to express themselves; children draw before they learn how to write.
It’s a way for them to communicate, and to make sense of their world. There
is something very compelling about making marks—historically we’ve been doing it since time began. And there is
no denying that it is a joyful activity. When I teach younger kids rarely
do I have to tell them what to draw; they have lots of ideas. When I teach Adults—well
that’s another story.
WP: Isn’t it a fact that some people just cannot draw?
When people ask
this of me, I always think of my mother- Rosella Helwig. An arts advocate, she
would respond, “Not all kids are good at math or language arts, yet we have the expectation that we can teach them to
become better at those subjects. How is it different with art?” Not all children are natural drawers—but through observational drawing we can improve their skills. I really believe this is true.
WP: Is it important to teach art in the school system?
In our school system
there is such pressure for standardization of testing. Most people would say
that they are in favour of creative thought and creativity, but when faced with open-ended tasks they would prefer a more
decisive and prescriptive path. Creativity means that you are unsure, that you
need to examine each of the possibilities; that you need to take a risk and you could be wrong. This is the single most important reason why art should be taught in our schools (and taught by trained
specialists). The arts teach children that there’s more than one correct
answer or solution to a problem. In my grade one class at the Calgary Jewish
Academy, we have “make a mistake day” where kids purposely make a mistake on a piece of paper. They then hand it off to each other. Their task is to “think
like an artist” and turn the mistake into something interesting. Art involves
problem solving, and it really is about process, not product.
WP: What are the most important reasons to keep the excitement and act of drawing alive throughout
childhood and beyond?
I think the most
important reason is that it can give us joy. We need to be creative, and it’s
very satisfying to make those marks and put our ideas on paper. Art can also
be a form of meditation and prayer. Personally, it quietens me and makes me appreciate
what’s around us. For me the most important part is the process of making
the art work; of getting lost in really looking at something and deciding what marks to put down. At times it’s the unexpected opportunity that arises in a work.
“Every child is an artist. The
problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Alice Helwig’s Suggestions on How to Encourage Creativity in Children:
Give children the
opportunity to create art, either through planned or spontaneous activities. Have
a craft or art centre at home and provide encouragement and materials (sketchbook, B pencils, paper, glitter, paint, pastels,
Give your children
opportunity to learn from experienced artists and teachers. Enroll them in a
Take your children
to art galleries. The cultural atmosphere in Calgary
is exciting. Go along 11th
Avenue or head down to Art Central in downtown Calgary. The galleries love having people come in and it’s free!
Look at the work
and engage your children in a dialogue. It doesn’t have to be complicated-
“what painting do you like? Why?”
- Take the kids to the museum. The Glenbow has
great educational programs
- Go to the public library. They have great
resource books in the children’s section
- Buy an art book for your child’s next present
- Rent a video about art or an artist
- Research artists and art on the internet. (
The MET in New York has great on-line resources for kids)
- When traveling make a point to visit art galleries and museums
- When discussing your child’s work use open-ended questions like- “Tell me about
your painting” rather than, “I like your cat” when really they were trying to draw a cow.
- Show your children that you are proud of their work.
You can do this is various ways:
- Frame their work
- Scan the image into your computer and use this as a screen-saver
- Take a digital photo and then use the image on t-shirts, cups and calendars
- Self-publish cards with your kids’ work on it.
Use the cards for teachers, birthday cards, etc.
- Allow children’s work to be what it is—children’s work. Celebrate that and don’t expect it to look like an adult’s piece of art work.
Ruth Spivak is a freelance writer in Calgary