Boiled down, it means that your 6-year-old is probably not going to leave our studio with a work of art that looks like Van Gogh rose out of his grave in France to paint it. Instead, it will look like it was painted by your 6-year-old, BUT WAIT! That’s a good thing.
So before you get disappointed that your first grader's art will, in fact, end up looking like a first grader's art (and when you’re paying for art classes, no less!), let’s discuss why, from a developmental and educational standpoint, that this is exactly what you want out of your child’s art education experience.
What is process and what is product?
Process is the way a thing is accomplished and what is learned along the way. When we’re children, process is everything: it’s the way we tell long, imaginative stories with no main point to our parents, it’s how we ride our bike a few feet before falling, dusting off, and trying again; it’s finger painting to squish the paint between our fingers as we glide the paint around the page, watching the colors mix in different ways.
However, by the time we become adults, product becomes king. Product is the end result of efforts. Product is receiving an A on the tough test, it’s getting the diploma, the job, the promotion. It’s meeting a goal, getting an award, earning a title.
How does this apply to art classes?
Product-oriented art would start with an expectation to create something specific that’s envisioned by an adult with specific steps, such as handing a child pompoms, pipe cleaners, googly-eyes and a popsicle stick with the expectation that the child would follow directions to create a caterpillar. Or, another example, would be paint-by-color project where the instructor told the students to use the “correct” colors to fill in the spaces.
In these examples, students aren’t needing to utilize their creativity, or problem-solving skills; instead they’re practicing other types of skills like direction following and hand-eye coordination, which are good things, of course, but they’re not delivering all that could be gained from an art class.
Instead, in process-oriented art, we care more about HOW a child gets to the end result than the end result itself.
This doesn’t mean that we won’t have an envisioned end goal for the project we’re teaching, but it means our focus isn’t whether your child comes home with perfect drawings or a perfect replica of our project example.
We care what techniques were learned and used properly, we care that your child made choices on what they wanted their art look like, we care that your child understands art elements & design principles and how to apply them in their art work, we care that your child understands art movements in history and the relevance they play in today’s understanding of art, we care that your child uses and develops curiosity, creativity, imagination, problem-solving, and innovative thinking.
If at the end of the project and your child has accomplished these things, we count it as a success.
If at the end of the project their still-life pepper they drew and painted isn’t yet Vermeer-worthy, we don’t feel as though we or they have failed; we know they have many, many years of perfecting their skills and techniques to get to the place where they are near that level. Master artists didn’t get to where they are by taking one month of art classes, they got to where they are by putting time and dedication into learning and perfecting their art.
"A" (should actually be) for Effort – the dangers of focusing on product
Getting that A on the test is great, but when the focus is on the product, we often forget the amount of hard work that goes into accomplishing the goal – the late nights, early mornings, and weeks of studying instead of going out with friends or sleeping in.
When we emphasize the product, we downplay the necessity for the hard work and are more likely to conclude that the person who got the A, or won the Nobel Peace Prize is just “really smart” or “really talented”.
In art, when we focus on the importance of the end product, those who are just beginning may get frustrated that their work doesn’t magically look like the instructor’s example and give up, thinking they “aren’t good at art”.
Focusing on product encourages us to say, “well I’m not as smart as she is, so I probably couldn’t get an A on this test” instead of “if I work hard, I could maybe get an A this time”.
We’re not the only ones advocating for process over product
In Angela Duckworth’s book, “Grit”, she explains her research on how those who succeed in life aren’t necessarily the most talented or the smartest individuals, but they are the ones who are willing to persist and to work hard.
But how can we cultivate children to have grit?
Educators are now learning that one of the ways we can “train” grit and work ethic into students is by complimenting a child’s effort instead of the their finished product or their intelligence. When children are told they are “so smart" all the time, when a problem comes up that they don’t know how to handle, instead of thinking, I’m so smart I’ll figure this out, they instead conclude, “I don’t know this, so I must not be smart”, and give up.
By complimenting the effort put into a task, students learn that it’s not what they ARE (smart/not smart, talented/not talented), but what they DO that matters.
So your child is going to come home from our classes with artwork that looks like they did their own work, not like our instructors painted it for them.
But they’re also hopefully going to come home feeling that they are learning and improving and are being given the skills that will help them become better artists and with knowledge that if they work hard enough on those skills, they can be as good as they want to be. And that, for us, is to have succeeded.
And what does process look like in our art classes? Check out this blog post which will show you what process looks like IN ACTION!
But in the meantime, what are your thoughts on process vs. product? We'd love to hear them, so drop us a comment!