Analyzing Art: How Do We Redefine “Beauty?”

Just before school started today, my teaching partner, Nayer, and I were in the supply room cutting construction paper. A fellow Kindergarten colleague was in there too, and we engaged in a really interesting discussion about visual arts. Nayer and I were both really excited because our paint and white glue order arrived, and we mentioned to this colleague that we use a lot of both supplies. She said that the same is true in their class, and this was the jumping off point for our discussion. We started to talk about “art” versus “crafts,” and the value in open-ended exploration with a real focus on the elements of design. We began to discuss the importance of “process” versus “product.” This is when our colleague made a very interesting comment. She said that in their class, “Girls seem better with this. Many boys seem to need/want a better understanding of what the end product might be.” This made me think of a tweet that our Arts Consultant, Karen, sent me back at the end of October: could part of the problem be, what do we consider “art?”

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I wonder if we need to extend our definition to link more with various student interests (which would align with a play based and inquiry based program). Both Nayer and this other colleague of ours, agreed with me. We started to talk about what else might be “art.”

  • Could it be the detailed and complex structures that the students make that involve blocks, cups, and various loose parts? 
  • Could it be the loose part pictures that the students make (often involving a variety of math manipulatives)?
  • Could it be the colour and design explorations that happen in the water (often in our class, with paint) or at the light table?

From our conversation, it certainly seems like a lot can be art, so then came the more uncomfortable part of our discussion: why then, when we know about the importance of process versus product and we understand that “art” can be about more than just paint, glue, paper, markers, and crayons, do we sometimes (or more than sometimes) gravitate towards “crafts?” That’s when I shared one of my wondersI wonder if focusing on the “process” can be hard to do when the “final product” doesn’t always look as pretty as a craft one might, and are we afraid that others (colleagues, administrators, parents, etc.) judge us based on a lack of “pretty products?” I put this wonder out there because it’s something that I think about. It’s something that I worry about. I’m lucky to work with a teaching partner that has a similar philosophy when it comes to The Arts and happily embraces the many stages of learning … seeing prettiness in all of them. In fact, she helped me do the same. 

I remember back at the beginning of October, when students created chalk drawings. Some wrote on them. Some drew various lines and shapes. Some drew pictures. And some scribbled. For this final group of children, scribbling is where they were at developmentally, and even their scribbles held a story (that they shared with us). Nayer listened to all of their stories and looked at all of their drawings, and all that she saw was “beauty.” She told me that she was going to hang them on our empty bulletin board. I remember wondering about some of those scribbles. What would others think? Would they question our purpose or our ability to instruct children? While I was reluctant, Nayer still hung up those drawings, and we still celebrated (and continue to celebrate) all of the students: where they were at, what they needed to move forward, and where they have come to now.

I’m not going to say that it’s easy. Sometimes I look at the beautiful displays in the hallways or in other classrooms, and I compare. I wonder, when looking at our display, will others understand the value in those lines, that dot, or even those scribbles? That’s when our colleague from this morning shared a very important point: this is where documentation matters. When, alongside that scribble, we share the learning story, then we also understand that the scribble is more than just a scribble. When we take the video that shows us modelling for a child how to use scissors or create the PicCollage that shows the details that a child adds over time, then we give even more value to what’s on the wall. 

I mentioned to our colleague that I wanted to blog about this discussion, and she was happy with me doing so. I’m glad I asked because our conversation has stayed with me all day today. I see the learning that happens during the process. I know the value in the documentation. Thanks to Nayer, my definition of “pretty” has evolved, and I see the prettiness in the various pieces of student work. We see the students recognize their growth and happily display their work for others — whether in class or online through our blogBut with each new person that walks into our room, I wonder, will they read the accompanying documentation on our wall? Will they see beyond the final product? I hope so, but I’m still scared. I wonder if others also worry, and if it’s this fear that sometimes makes a craft seem a lot more appealing. What do you think? When contemplating art, how do we start to redefine “beauty?”


2 thoughts on “Analyzing Art: How Do We Redefine “Beauty?”

  1. I understand your concern about things not looking pretty, but I have to be honest: when I go into a classroom that is displaying their art and their products are virtually identical, beautiful as they are, I cringe a little inside because almost all of the students’ creativity has been stamped out. In an ever-evolving world, we need our students to reach adulthood still being creative, seeing value in the creative process, and who are able to take the techniques that we have taught them and apply them in new and unique ways. By allowing your students to be creative and seeing art in many different unique and creative ways, you are fostering this thinking in your students and hopefully they will then hang on to their creativity a little while longer. Keep on finding the beauty in the documentation.

    • Thank you for the comment, Melanie! I love your thinking on creativity. Such an important point. I think that this creative piece can also come out in so many different ways, which again, maybe speaks to the need to rethink what gets included as “art.” Thanks too for mentioning documentation again. This is such an important component (for all grades). Curious to hear what others think …


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