June 18, 2010

Ars gratia artis...and more

When you read dozens of good picture books a day to your child, you can't help but instill an interest in art as you advance their listening and comprehension skills. Like most kids, Hadley loves to draw, paint, cut, glue, sew, tape, and create art. As a preschool and kindergarten student, she took a few art workshops and classes that provided kids a fun space to paint, color and draw. She most enjoyed the process of making something, not really caring about the final product (the "Look how much paint I have on me! You should have seen the mess we made!" phase). It was simply fun.

Then Hadley became frustrated: her horses didn't look on paper the way they looked in her mind, the faces were uneven, she couldn't make things right. She didn't buy the line "there are no mistakes in art!", or even "just paint over it". Since I was looking around for an activity that was both calm and done in a group, I checked out the art options. We're fortunate to have a number of choices in our small town, including a local artist whom I've known about for years. I enrolled Hadley last summer (at age 7 1/2).

At first, I really thought that the benefit of this weekly class would be the guidance in art that would help ease Hadley's frustrations. Hadley knew a few kids in the class, so it was a nice way to see some friends over the summer in a quieter, more structured way than what she got on a playdate, on the playground or in a sport. After a few weeks, I noticed another benefit: Hadley was always calm and peaceful leaving the studio. It didn't matter what her mood was when she entered or how she felt about the work she had done, she just was always peaceful (and stayed that way for a while). As Hadley developed more confidence in her art work, she could spend time drawing at home as a way to calm her down. Living with a hearing loss is tiring, and sometimes she just needs to get away from the world. Creating something, whether it's drawing a picture, coloring a mandala, cutting out clothes for paper dolls...they all give her the opportunity to just get into herself for a little bit, and away from the chaos at hand (even if she's still physically in the middle of it). I joke that the cost of each art class is awash with an insurance copay for therapy-- with the added bonus that we have pictures to hang on the walls.

It's now been a full year of weekly art classes for Hadley, and she's excited for the summer session to start next week. Regardless of what she does with art in the future, she has a really strong understanding of how she can calm herself or regain some energy by spending some time with art.

(Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one activity she'll hang on to for a while: she's caught the bug for entering contests and art shows. Tonight, she received an award in her age group at the South Shore Art Center Arts Festival. If you're local, go check her work out in the kids' tent this weekend!).

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