Spotlight On Early Artistic Talent - Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

It’s not just me, but several friends and family members have noted my four-year-old’s outstanding artistic talent.

He comes by it naturally since there are various artists / architects on both sides. I’m getting pressured to steer him toward “extra” support to nurture his talent but am wary of taking time away from his childhood. How important is it just to let him discover his gifts on his own in his own time?

Michelangelo’s Mom

Dear MM,

Having seen what can happen to child “stars” I too am reluctant to turn a budding talent into a commitment. While it is true that natural ability is often evident quite early, it is just as true that many protégés lack the typical childhood social experiences, and therefore the essential social skills that we take for granted will be there by adulthood. In a less stellar childhood there is time for friends, play, and day dreaming that can’t happen with a frantic schedule of lessons, practice, and public appearances.

Follow his lead for adding extracurricular activities, now and through elementary school. He may have more interest in doing what his current group of friends is doing than in going to Art Class or Art Camp or joining the Art Club. But if he wants to, by all means let him, as long as it’s fun!

In middle school, and especially in high school, he’ll have more choice to pursue a passion in art during the school day, if indeed that is his passion at that time, and thereby gain from direct instruction and feedback.

As he approaches choices for after high school, he may need guidance to balance his creative (and potentially non-lucrative) pursuits with preparing for an independent future. Art Education, Graphic Design, Landscape Design, Architecture and other majors can be safer choices than Studio Art. He can hold down a “day job” to pay the rent while gaining expertise and connections to make art his main livelihood. No matter how he earns a living, dabbling for personal fulfillment is something he can have in his life at any time. But these decisions are a long ways off.

For now, continue to keep materials on hand for his visual self-expression: paper, markers, crayons, pencils, paint, and chalk for the sidewalk. He may also enjoy 3-dimensional work with scissors, paper, and tape. Kitchen cardboard (cereal boxes, egg cartons, paper towel tubes, etc.) are good sculpture materials combined with masking tape or a stapler. Play dough is inexpensive and easy to cook up yourself. Legos, Lincoln Logs and good old wooden blocks also provide opportunities for inventiveness and fine motor coordination. Your son might enjoy art with food – adding his creative flair to pizza toppings or a raw veggie platter for guests.

Artists also need inspiration, so be sure to take your son to outdoor settings, from parklands to cityscapes, and to other places that are both novel and familiar so he can make observations about color, line, and mood. Read picture books together so he can “read” the illustrations. Go to art museums and other museums to take in the displays. Let him live a life that is rich with opportunity to note the mundane details of the laugh lines on faces, the dusty corners on shadowed shelves, the splashes of colors as water runs over rocks, and the beams of dappled sunlight in the woods.

Artists have to be problem solvers; after all, art is an invented challenge the artist makes for himself to solve! Self-motivation and persistence are essential traits of a successful artist.
At the age of four there should be plenty of time in his day to play - to make choices, to make mistakes, and to figure things out for himself.
True talent will still be there when the time is right.

Dr. Debbie

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