Show Me What YOU Can Do: Process Art vs Product Art

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Imagine that you are walking into a classroom. Close your eyes and visualize the kind of artwork you see. It could be hanging on the wall or in the process of being created. My guess is that your mind’s eye is seeing picturesque, ‘Pinterest-worthy’ art.  Even though perfectly cut out shapes, expertly glued papers, and meticulously colored masterpieces are appealing to look at, I can bet that perfectly cut line is not the work of a 3, 4 or even 5-year old… It is the work of the teacher!  There have been countless times as a teacher and as a School Director, where I have highlighted the importance of process art vs. product art. This may be the first time you’ve heard of these terms, but you will soon be an art expert!

What is Product Art?

Product art is when the main focus of your lesson is the end result.  It is usually based off of a finished copy, with step-by-step instructions outlining how to complete the project. This typically results in an array of work that looks almost identical. For example, a preschool class at my school was studying fairy tales, specifically “The Three Little Pigs.” To make an art connection, the teacher wanted each of them to make a pig.  She showed them her example, and then cut out enough ears, snouts, bodies, and tails for her class. This resulted in 12 perfectly plump, pink piglets. While it was adorable, I had to ask her, what did the students learn? I challenged her to dig a little deeper and answer these questions: did it enhance or improve their fine motor skills? Did it allow them to think creatively? The answer to each question was “no”. While it did show their ability to follow instructions, it is also important to see what children can do with their own creativity and ability.

What is Process Art?

Process art is focused on the journey, not the destination. Process-driven art is based upon each child’s creativity, experience, and natural interests. As a result, no two pieces of art will look alike. For example, I asked my students to make pumpkins to decorate our classroom for fall. That was the only guideline given to them, and they had free range of all supplies. When the project was over I was left with some classic-looking pumpkins; some short, some fat, some tall and skinny! I also had quite a few colorful pumpkins and even a rainbow one! Each pumpkin was unique. I can tell you which work of art belonged to which student because they reflected their individual personalities SO well!  

This approach teaches students that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do art. It sets up all children for success and allows them to develop a personal connection with their work.

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How do I foster the learning through Process Art at home?

  1. Provide a variety of art materials for each project, even non-traditional art supplies.

  2. Don’t make an example for them to copy! I know this may be hard, but children have a deep desire to please. If they see your example, they will try their best to copy it. If they fail to copy it or do it “correctly,” it may leave them feeling frustrated or not good enough. Instead, guide them through the process.

  3. Enjoy the journey! Art isn’t a race! If they can’t finish in the time allotted it’s okay! Highlight the importance of the experience as opposed to rushing to get a finished piece on the wall.

Art aids development in so many ways. It grows their fine and gross motor skills, expands creativity, enhances problem-solving capabilities, and helps them to focus. I know it may be hard to relinquish control, but once you do, your "mini-Picasso's" will create amazing things!

About Ashley:

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Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.