With an ever-increasing reliance on screens among our kids, the value of art in children’s lives is greater than ever before. While art teachers will tell you they don’t feel there’s enough emphasis placed on art in the curriculum, the weekly art classes most students attend are a breath of fresh air.
For kids who don’t do well in other subjects, art is a place they can relax and even excel. For those who feel pressured to get the right answer in maths, it’s comforting to know there’s no right or wrong answer in art.
“The first rule in art is there’s no rules,” says Owen Hutchison, who is the artist in focus at this year’s Immanuel Arts Festival.
“If you want to have a green sky have a green sky. You shouldn’t have boundaries and parameters, unless you’re a commercial artist.”
Before retiring and devoting himself full-time to his art, Mr Hutchison was a high school teacher. He’s a firm believer in the importance of art in children’s lives.
“I think it makes kids observant,” he says. “I know that’s what it does for me. You look at objects and scenes and think, how would that look in a certain way. You take in data from the environment and you analyse it.”
Classroom art has come a long way since Mr Hutchison’s youth, when art wasn’t always taught in the most engaging way.
“When I was a kid, we had art once a week. We had pastels on grey paper – it wasn’t really inspiring. The main influence on me came in high school where I learnt lino cut prints. I remember going home and doing a print just for fun.”
Peter Evans, a primary school art teacher at Immanuel Lutheran College, takes students into much more exciting realms than pastels on grey paper. “With the preps, I look at how artists use lines and shapes to create artworks,” he says. “We looked at Kandinsky last term, we painted to music and did abstract artwork using lines, shapes and colours. I show them artwork is pretty much just lines, shape and colours put together in different ways.
“At the moment we’re doing a monster-shaped collage and for the Arts Fest, we’re doing a collaborative artwork. The preps’ part is doing some leaves. I’ve painted some leaves and they’re going to decorate them and put them on an art tree. Other grades are doing patterned rocks around the bottom of the tree.”
Mr Evans says all children are artists, until they reach an age where they decide they’re either not good at it or don’t enjoy it.
“Kids at an early age will give anything a go,” he says. “As they get older they have more preconceived ideas – if it’s not quite right they get quite frustrated.”
Mr Evans has been teaching art in primary and high school for close to 20 years and believes it’s not only a relaxing pastime for kids, it contributes to the development of a number of important skills.
“Art is about decision making and problem solving,” he says. “There are multiple possibilities; it’s just endless. It encompasses so many skills that are part of 21st century education.
“It is a form of therapy for a lot of kids and it’s also a form of mindfulness. Those who may struggle with literacy and numeracy, when they come to art it’s their thing and they really get into it.
“As an art teacher, I’m hoping I’m giving them the skills, strategies, problem solving, creativity skills, following procedure skills and all those types of things that can help them in other areas.”
Mr Evans runs a lunchtime art club once a week, and students can visit during morning tea time to draw or makes things out of plasticine. He also runs school holiday art classes, which is great for kids who want to explore art with more freedom.
“Instead of following a school curriculum, kids bring in an artwork they want to create and I guide them through it. I get pets, I get unicorns, I get all sorts of weird and wonderful things they like to paint. They just come in and get into their zone.”
Mr Evans says art changes in high school, when it becomes more concept based, while primary school art is purely “creative and fearless”. Mr Evans and Mr Hutchison both agree that many parents don’t see the point in encouraging their children to pursue art, because they see it as a subject with limited career opportunities.
“A lot of people don’t see a future in it, but these days you have design, graphics and website creation – art is a pretty important skill to have with all those fields.”
Year 12 Immanuel Lutheran College student Charlotte Bateman is an avid artist who plans to study psychology next year. But for now, she’s gearing up to enter her first artworks into the Immanuel Arts Prize.
“The body of work we’ve been working on has been based on the concept of existence,” she says. “I really wanted to base my piece around the identity of people’s existence and how experience shapes existence.
“I’ve created three portraits using red, black and blue biro pens, used a technique of scribbling. It’s a really good medium to work with because it allows me to build on the darker parts and it allows for flexibility in the lighter parts. It allows depth to come through.”
Charlotte has loved art since she was a child and remembers going home every day after school and sketching.
“I’ve always been passionate about it. I do mostly sketching but that leads into painting. I would consider myself an artist and I think it would be interesting and a great experience to have a career as an artist, but it’s not very stable. It’s something I’d like to pursue when I’m older, after I have a career in something else.”
Charlotte likes to relax in her room with her smartphone like any other teen, but says art has given her something else to focus on.
“It’s an escape for young people to use their brains in a different way and to think differently. I’d much rather be sitting down drawing a picture and escaping into that world, getting into my mindset and letting my thoughts develop on a page.”
Charlotte says the Arts Festival is a great opportunity for emerging artists like herself to share their work. “There are so many different artists that come through and so many different pieces.
“All the students love it – we all go down and look at it. I just think that art starts from a young age. Children scribble and see they’ve created something and the parents might not understand what they’ve drawn, but the child knows. As you grow, it becomes structured and you see patterns.
“Eventually it becomes something beautiful. Art is very important for human development and is a big part of growing up.”
Immanuel Arts Festival is on May 23 to 26 and is supported by My Weekly Preview. Visit immanuelartsfestival.com.au
5 key points
• 2019 marks the 39th anniversary of Immanuel Arts Festival
• It attracts more than 200 emerging artists and 800 artworks
• Genres include painting, photography, sculpture, mixed media, wearable art and film
• This year’s artist in focus is Owen Hutchison
• This year’s artists in residence are Rachel Curry and Peter Rowe
Image: Greg Gardener
My Weekly Preview chats to author, illustrator and motivational speaker Peter Rowe about his love of art.
What is the value of art in children’s lives? I believe art is incredibly valuable in children’s lives. It allows them the opportunity to tap into their natural creativity, without fear of judgment, boundaries or expectations. Art is an extension of who you are, a form of expressing emotions, and when children are given a safe space in which to play and create, they are also given an opportunity to be their own unique selves, which is a very important and precious thing indeed.
Why do you create art for children? I have never really felt that I created art specifically for children except with my illustrations for my Josh the Robot children’s books. Perhaps it is more about creating art that brings out the inner child in everyone. My artworks are often abstract colourful explosions of thoughts and stories and sometimes simply a moment of enjoying certain colours and textures. I have previously enjoyed painting a variety of playful colourful pieces capturing happy faces and robots, which while can be seen as aimed at children, I have found that they are enjoyed by all ages. Naturally children will be drawn to certain works, however, my wish is for every piece I create to hopefully connect emotionally with people, children and adults alike, for my art to bring joy and encourage everyone to get creative and share who they are. If I am able to inspire children to share a love of art as I do then I will be very happy.
What feedback have you received from children about your art, especially the Josh the Robot books? I could not be more thrilled about the feedback I have received and continue to receive about my Josh the Robot children’s books, it is incredibly special to me. Josh is a character I created who understands what it is like to be treated differently and sometimes excluded, simply because he is different to others. I love hearing that parents enjoy reading my books to their children, knowing that they are learning about the importance of being kind, including others and that it is okay to be different. I particularly enjoy when parents share how their children have embraced Josh and have even taken my books to school to share the messages within the pages. One young boy even dressed up as Josh the Robot for Book Week. Nothing brings me greater happiness than knowing that something I have created brings joy to others.
Was art important to you as a child? Any creative means of expression I could find was important to me as I was not able to communicate verbally. I adored my puppets and drawing and would often put on puppet shows for my family with my varied collection of noises for each character. I am so grateful to my family for allowing me the space to express myself so creatively as it was also a means in which for me to communicate with them. While it was not until later in life that I discovered art as a means of therapy to assist with PTSD, it has grown to become a great love and source of happiness for me.
What’s the most important thing children should remember when they are creating art? Art is an extension of who you are. It is an opportunity to share what you have to say, so be true to who you are. Art should not have limits – have fun, play and most of all enjoy.