The Power of Play & Process in Art
As adults, we usually expect all our activities to have a tangible result. We plant bulbs and expect the flowers in spring, we do laundry and expect clean folded clothes, and we paint a landscape and look forward to something to hang on the wall. But what if the experience is the point? What if the act of digging and burying the bulb is the joy itself?
One of the things I often suggest to adults is to embrace not the result but the process of art making. Process is especially important for children as process is just another word for “play”; play is how we learn, how our brains grow, and how all mammals explore the world. In fact, recent research on our brains suggest that play and exploration cause neural growth all throughout our lives even into adulthood. As we embrace process, we are also breaking free of having to have an object that then lives inside our homes, which are often already full of things! We are doing ourselves and our planet a favor when we celebrate the process of creation.
What kinds of process art can we try?
This is one if my favorite kinds of art as you get to be outdoors as you create. Some of you have tried creating a fairy house and watched the joy this kind of creating can bring children. Land art, sometimes called earth art, is simply this: using natural objects to create outdoors. Here are a few land art ideas:
- a nature mandala: collect some natural objects and arrange them into a pleasing radial symmetrical design (see photos)
- leaf collage/mosaic: collect some leaf colors (this is best in fall) and tear the leaves into forms and shapes that can be abstract or more representational
-rock pile art: collect rocks and try making some pleasing designs
You will find the playful learning here is about symmetry, color, line, and shade while also exploring the nature and species around you. The joy of playing outside with no big agenda or takeaway is like what some of us experienced as kids. Be cautious about over collection and if you take any natural objects inside make sure not to accidentally kidnap some insects!
If you need inspiration, here are a few artists to check out: Andy Goldsworthy, Nils Udo, Elisabeth Wierzbicka, and Roy Staab. The movie Rivers and Tides features Andy Goldsworthy and his very cool outdoor art!
Making and using play dough
Play dough is all about process! It is also very easy to make your own and the creating it can become part of the play. Play dough allows for the use of imagination and exercises fine motor skills, plus it provides a wonderful texture for sensory play.
Here is an easy recipe:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup kosher salt
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. cream of tartar
-Combine the flour, kosher salt, vegetable oil and cream of tartar together in a large bowl.
-Adult helper boils water in a saucepan, then lets it cool down a bit until it's warm (to the point where you can handle without burning your hands). Add the warm water to the mixture and mix well.
-Add food coloring(s) of your choice to each ball until the mixture is a desired color. This is fun to mix with hands, but they WILL be stained a cool color.
-Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Once you are playing with the play dough use cookie cutters, rolling pins, plastic silverware, blocks, and more! Playdough has endless possibilities.
There are so many experiments to do with paint! I think of science and art as very much the same, both embrace questions, investigations, and experiments. Some of these activities could be viewed as a bit of both. Here’s some to try:
Some favorite paint experiments:
Many of the process art activities are meant for young preschool kids but I have done some of the above projects with junior high ages and they often love it. I think all humans love a good experiment and the access to doing and making is often less in school as students get into junior high.
Have a joyful and messy time using your imagination and enjoying the process, not just the result. Happy journeys!
Today’s blog in our Power of Play series is by board member Serena Sanborn. Serena is an artist, Maine Master Naturalist and Waterville Creates' Education + Outreach Manager, where she designs programming often using art and science together. She has been on the Children’s Discovery Museum board since 2018.