Yes, Preteen Boys Love Art!Art is important at every age, and can provide a mode of self-expression desperately needed as our pre-adolescents begin to shape their identities.
For years, I’ve been running an art camp for my son and his friends. We choose a week in the summer and focus on one of their interests. We’ve done art camps themed on everything from Hundertwasser’s architecture to skate and surf graphics. Every year, I assume I’m planning the final art camp—the boys are getting older, I think. They won’t want to make art anymore. And every summer my son asks, “When is the art camp this year? My friends have been asking about it!” Now he’s in 8th grade, and we’re still going strong.
Many of us make this mistake, assuming that art is just for elementary-aged children. We let art go as our children get older, certain that its importance has been supplanted by video games and social relationships. But art is important at every age, and can provide a mode of self-expression desperately needed as our pre-adolescents begin to shape their identities.
Here are some suggestions for keeping your preteen connected with his creative side!
MAKE IT SOCIAL
Peter Melville, head of the middle school art program at a local private progressive school, says “In the middle school years we lose a lot of interest in art from boys because what boys need art to be is social. They go into things like set design so they can work with a team.” Give your preteen opportunities to make art with his friends. Instead of asking him to go to LACMA with you on a Sunday afternoon, round up a group of his friends and sign them up for a youth workshop there. Get his whole circle involved in art-related community service, such as painting a mural or decorating reusable shopping bags to donate. Get a group of your son’s friends together and find an art studio that will design a class based around their interests. (This is one of the most popular options at my studio, Paradiso Arts.)
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
When I enrolled in an art class based on the techniques of the masters, I would never have dreamed such a thing would interest my 13-year-old son. But I could see his eyes light up as I described the class to him, and now we take it together. When I attended a prominent architect’s lecture at UCLA with my family, my 10-year-old hung on every word and image. For weeks afterward he designed and created many different three-dimensional sculptural buildings based on what he’d learned.
My boys were the only children attending that lecture. You never know what is going to pique your child’s interest; I would never have thought to suggest an architectural lecture if I hadn’t been going myself anyway! Point things out that you find interesting or beautiful, and see what your children respond to.
If you find an art event that relates, even tangentially, to your child’s interests–for example, a show on the Spanish Colonial Conquest for your dramatic weapons enthusiast, a conceptual work about film for your video-game-obsessed offspring, plein aire painting at the racetrack for your horse nut–take your children! We often think events need to be tailored for children to be interesting for them, but I’ve found that the opposite is often true.
PAY ATTENTION TO ATMOSPHERE
When I prepare the art studio for my preteen artists, there’s a lot more to do than just set out paper and paint. I need to create a whole world, a creativity-fostering environment that puts middle school students at ease. I put up art that is relevant to them, skateboard graphics, designs for video game characters. I play music. I have snacks available and make sure to inject lots of humor into the lessons. I choose a mix of projects, some that are traditional and some that derive directly from their interests, like cartooning and t-shirt design. I make sure that whatever we are doing offers plenty of opportunity for collaboration and working in small groups. The more comfortable they feel in the studio, the more relaxed and party-like the atmosphere, the more involved they allow themselves to become in their art making.
LET YOUR PROJECTS EVOLVE OUT OF EXISTING NEEDS OR OCCASIONS
Opportunities for art making abound, and the ones that garner the most enthusiasm are the ones that rise organically from what your child is already involved in. Designing a centerpiece for an upcoming bar mitzvah, making gifts for the holidays, creating decorations for next week’s party, designing a t-shirt logo for a club or favorite sports team, are all ideas that build on the momentum of what’s already happening in your child’s world. (Click here for one such project: Freezer Paper-Stenciled T-Shirts.)
Laura Alvarez, M.F.A., is the mother of two preteen boys. Having taught art in private schools for over ten years, she now both paints and teaches adults and children out of her own studio, Paradiso Arts, in Santa Monica. Her art can be found at lauraalvarez.net and her schedule of classes is available at www.paradisoarts.com.
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Most of the steps below should be completed by your child; at this age I’ve found the best tactic is to be as hands-off as possible but always available in case help is needed.
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