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How to Encourage Young Artists

How to Encourage Young Artists

Amy Wilson

It wasn’t that long ago that having a son or daughter who expressed interest in becoming an artist was considered a parent’s worst nightmare. But today, many parents are encouraging of their children’s interest in art. There are many options available to help nurture budding talent, but sending a young artist to expensive private lessons isn’t necessarily at the top of the list. Yet, when I see the new undergraduates show up at the college where I teach, there are some who have gotten an undeniable head start above their peers. Here are some things that I find they have in common:

They are comfortable going to museums.

It is of course every freshman art teacher’s dream to have a class full of kids who know their art history backwards and forwards, but this isn’t realistic, nor is it even necessary. What is very helpful is if they, from a very young age, get used to being in museums, and learn to think of them as a place where they can spend time without being intimidated or overwhelmed. Many kids show up to college having never been to a museum and find themselves petrified once they arrive. This is a huge roadblock in the way of any meaningful research or looking that can be accomplished and it can take months to overcome. Just having them used to the idea of going to the museum, sitting in front of a work they like, noting the artist’s name and any wall text that might go with it is, in itself, a skill that will help them immensely.

They have spent time looking at books that speak their visual language.

Any sort of book with pictures in it can be a source of inspiration for young artists – whether it’s formal artist’s monographs or graphic novels (Bone by Jeff Smith, and The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci come highly recommended to me for young adults), it doesn’t matter as long as they are able to find images that appeal to them and that pique their interest. There are also many illustrated artist’s sketchbooks available, including the excellent The Journey is the Destination by Dan Eldon, which can also help provide inspiration for our next tip. But having books around that they can look at whenever they feel like it makes art approachable and accessible, and strengthens your child’s connection to images.

They keep a sketchbook.

Sketchbooks can provide young artists (and older artists too!) a private space to work out ideas. What’s more, they can help establish a daily practice of creating art, which will help them figure out – probably more than anything else – whether or not they really want to be an artist. That’s a big question: Do you love art enough to do it every day? Keeping a sketchbook can help answer that. And the act of filling up book after book even with just sketches and doodles can provide them with confidence when it comes to making marks – which are, after all, the building blocks of creating art.

They have an interest in hobbies that encourage manual dexterity and creativity, even if it’s not technically “art.”

I don’t care if it’s carpentry, knitting, sewing, cooking, building models, or whatever – if it involves your child’s eyes, brain, and hands all working together to solve some sort of task, it will help them be an artist in the long run. Projects like these encourage patience and perseverance as well as attention to fine detail and a sense of picturing a project completed when it’s only partially done – which are exactly the skills you need to be an artist, no matter which field they choose to study. Naturally, your child needs to practice their primary skill in painting, drawing, or sculpture, but allow them some time to pursue these sorts of projects as well and they will learn a lot from them.

Their parents accept that their child’s taste may not be the same as their own.

I’d imagine it’s pretty jarring for a parent who loves Renaissance portraiture to discover that their kid is really excited by the work of Picasso or Basquiat. What might seem chaotic or aggressive to you might seem playful, exciting, or simply colorful to them, and you shouldn’t read too much into your child’s budding taste in art. By all means, share what you like with your young artist, but – as with music, clothes, food, and everything else – it’s important that they come to their own decisions. Encourage them to look at all art and to keep an open mind, and let the rest fall into place. And take comfort (if it’s needed) in the fact that kids often finish college liking very different art than when they first started.

More than lessons, expensive equipment or attending magnet schools, this list is it in terms of what I find that the highest achieving freshmen art students to have in common. I hope you’ll find this helpful and give the young artist in your life a running start!

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