by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, author of The Frame-Up
While shopping recently, I spotted a grandmother and her three-year-old grandson sitting at a plastic table, coloring. Grandma kept pressing the boy to “color inside the lines”, something he struggled to do. It took all my willpower not to stop and beg her to turn the coloring sheet over and let him create to his heart’s content. The experience bothered me for days. All I could think was: What if he spends his life coloring within the lines? What will we as a society have lost?
I exaggerate, but only slightly.
We are born with the desire to express ourselves creatively. Young children draw, paint, and mold clay with wild abandon. Only later, when they judge themselves as lacking talent, do they stop creating and become consumers of others’ creativity. But unlike other forms of art — music, films, literature — somehow the visual arts become more remote to us. Most people never set foot in an art gallery or museum once they put aside their paints because of the mistaken belief that art is precious and highbrow and they lack the language to engage with it in an intelligent way.
One of the reasons I wrote The Frame-Up was to help children feel comfortable with art, to feel excited visiting art galleries, to begin to see the paintings and sculptures as living things, another way to tell the story of who we are. There are so many benefits that come from fostering a lifelong love of art and creativity. My list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.
1. It promotes problem-solving and decision-making
Everything man-made that exists in this world was once a mere wisp of an idea in someone’s imagination. When we allow our children to create their own dreamscape, be it on paper, through song and dance, or via storytelling, we are sowing the seeds for future generations to create inventions, build new ways of living, and find solutions to problems once thought unsolvable. Want a society that is innovative and promotes critical thinking? Encourage kids to create without constraints, especially in the early years.
2. It promotes compassion
When children visit art galleries, they are able to step into the shoes of both the subject and the artist, to see the world through their eyes. This is especially important when the art is created by a person from a culture or gender different than our own. For example, a young child may not understand the complexities of race relations, but experiencing art created by persons of color or by Indigenous artists may lead to greater understanding. Israeli artist Yaacov Agam once said, “There are two distinct languages. There is the verbal, which separates people . . . and the visual, that is understood by everybody.”
3. It supports storytelling
Art is a visual form of storytelling. In The Frame-Up, I encourage readers to “look beyond what you think you see;” to regard paintings and sculptures as stories instead of objects. When they do, Mona Dunn is no longer simply a mysterious girl in a painting; she’s a thirteen-year-old with hopes and dreams and spunk. Readers often tell me that The Frame-Up has forever changed the way they look at and interact with art. That’s the power of seeing stories.
4. Because beauty and joy matter
There is nothing so joyful as picking up a blank piece of paper or canvas and splashing paint across it, or drawing imaginary creatures. The ability to create images out of thin air is awe-inspiring and playful. A visit to an art installation reminds us of the importance of beauty and can soothe us in unexpected ways, as does mucking about with paints, building worlds with blocks, or creating animals out of clay. Encouraging children to express what’s in their hearts and minds through art gives them permission to be who they are.
In the end, art is the story of us as people. We need to encourage our children to keep creating, and inspire them to find their own ways to connect with art. They will be all the happier for it, and society, all the better.
About the author:
Wendy McLeod MacKnight lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, and wrote her debut novel at age nine. During her first career, she worked for the government of New Brunswick as the deputy minister of education, among other positions. She has been known to wander art galleries and have spirited conversations with the paintings — mostly in her head, though sometimes not. She hopes that readers will be inspired to create their own masterpieces and visit their own local art galleries. And even better, she hopes they’ll come to Fredericton, visit the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and meet Mona and the rest of the characters in her book.