Art for Art’s Sake: Process Art in Early Childhood Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. One of the first courses that I taught when starting out as an early childhood education professor, was called “Creative Workshop”. Much to my delight, the course focused on process art. I started the course with an introduction which strongly advocated for process over product and denounced themed crafts, precuts, and colouring books. Informally surveying the students, overwhelmingly, they were uncomfortable with art, believing that they were not good at it. The 14-week course was hands-on and material-intensive. It began with mark making, moved to painting, then clay, 2D collages and finally 3D structures. Students were expected to take their learning and experience and apply it in placement. While some students were resistant at first as they did not recognize why product-focused art was not acceptable, by the end of the course, most got it! Teaching this course had a profound impact and the memories are as vivid and vibrant as a colourful canvas. It was blissful teaching and now I get to revisit art experiences as I develop, “The Value and Joys of Process Art” which is a full day workshop that I will be delivering in Chatham, Ontario, next month.

This is why I am dismayed and saddened to read posts thirty years later that propose “balance”, saying as one recently did, that children respond to different teaching styles and that we are all different. First of all, I don’t believe in teaching styles as styles come and go. I believe that our work should be grounded in a philosophy and for me it is constructivism as it values the child as competent, active and capable of being artists. I was brought up experiencing art for the sake of art as my mother is an artist and was an art teacher. In process art, I got to be different. I had the opportunity to explore my own creativity, in my own unique way. I learned from my mother and from teaching the “Creative Workshop” course that children should have the same tools and explore with the same mediums as real artists because that is what they are. An artist creates original art. Children come to the experience of process art as active rather than passive participants. They learn through play rather than following the directions needed in product-driven art. I appreciate the idea of balance however, I believe that thinking about art for art’s sake should not be about an either/or dichotomy. I believe that the process can produce art, but it should be process over product. The term art for art’s sake expresses a philosophy about the intrinsic value of art that is divorced from any didactic function. In the process of experiencing art, a product often results but it can be transient and ephemeral. It can soley be about the joy of process.

The term process art was not born in the early childhood education world. Process art is an artistic movement as well as a creative sentiment where the end product of art, is not the principal focus. The formation of the art and all that it entails or the actual doing of the art is an actual work of art, a form of pure expression. Art is viewed as a creative journey or process, rather than as a deliverable or end product. While the debate wages on and has become quite animated on social media platforms, I will always stand for process art. I look forward to returning to Chatham and staying at my favourite hotel, The Retro Suites, which itself is an artistic experience, to share the value and joys of process art. From self-portraits, still life, clay, printing and painting, participants will engage and express, discovering for themselves the importance of process over product.

The article, How Process-Focused Art Experiences for Preschoolers, clearly details the difference between process-focused and product-focused art.

While the article was written in 2014, this is not a new sentiment. In 1978, one of my favourite singer songwriters, Harry Chapin wrote Flowers are Red, which tells the story of a little boy who lost his creativity after being asked to paint flowers in a certain way. “There’s no need to see flowers any other way, than the way they always have been seen”. No wonder, my students stopped seeing themselves as artists. It is because they were told that there was a right and a wrong way and they became frustrated with their inability to recreate teacher-dictated models. They stopped seeing themselves as artists in the pursuit of a product. Product-focused is not art for art’s sake.

Every child is an artist until he’s told he’s not an artist ~ John Lennon

Where do you stand? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Art for Art’s Sake: Process Art in Early Childhood Education

  1. After 12 years in same centre I recently took a leap and began working at a new ELCCC. I am SO incredibly disheartened (and disappointed) to see the amount of product based art taking place in this setting. More so its discouraging to see educators simply arnt seeing or acknowledging how meaingless their art experience are when they stand over the kids cutting out pre cut letters and shapes and direct the kids to glue. Why do educators in (preschool settings) still find it a priority to focus on ‘letter’s of the day and ‘product art pieces’? How are they not seeing the value in treating children as competent and capable human beings, who need an an incredible amount of support around social emotional development and not product based experiences?!?


  2. This article is so timely for me. I am currently teaching in the ECE program in Kenora, and happen to be using your beautiful book. My students are currently working on an art provocation and documentation assignment which must be process based. There appears to be a connection between discomfort with process art and one’s own past experience with art. Those who did not have strong, positive art experiences as children were more likely to seek product-based experiences involving specific steps. As with other areas of the program, I am encouraging us to revisit art and play as adults, taking the time to explore and “meet various mediums again”, as if for the first time. At the same time, we must work to ensure all children have the freedom to discover the “art world” just as they have the right to discover other worlds like blocks and nature.


  3. This really resonates with me especially as I find myself constantly explaining the process over product to the staff I work with. So many of them are still doing crafts; mostly because they want to control the chaos; however, I believe that children’s creativity comes when they are given the freedom to explore the resources provided. I love process art, and bring it into program every chance I get. Some times I use STEAM as the basis for my process art, as I find that science and art go together so naturally.


  4. Thank you for bringing “Art” and the importance of process over product to Educators. I am truly saddened walking into centers where there isn’t art easels, children’s creative pieces, or even an area where children can find pencils, crayons, or other art supplies. There are always beautiful boards highlighting;How they see the children as being competent, yet looking around for art supplies and sensory experiences their message does not match what they value for the children. I am excited for all educators to rediscover the value of art and therefore become inspired and know that children are worth it! It’s ok for there to be a bit of mess for our young children’s minds and development. and of us as educators 🙂 Thank you


  5. Pingback: Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Process Art | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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