Together in art

The day-to-day pressures of parenting can be particularly overwhelming, and so much more-so in these difficult times.

Mindful Parenting spoke to Heather Whitely Robertson, Head of Learning and Participation at the Art Gallery of NSW to find out how we can cultivate more creativity with our children to bring a little more joy to our days.

Why is cultivating creativity so important in times such as these?

Creativity is a fundamental human endeavour – and when we are experiencing it, we feel alive. Creativity inspires curiosity and wonder, ignites our imagination, promotes self-discovery and helps us make meaning in life. Indeed, most of the things we find interesting and important have been generated through creativity. Now more than ever, we need creativity to help us solve daily challenges and adapt our thinking. And we need creativity to nourish our inner lives, process our feelings and help us make meaning of this new world order.

What benefits are there for families that get busy with artmaking?

When we are involved in creativity, we are activating our brain in new ways. Each time we generate a new idea or make a new drawing or object, new synaptic connections are formed. By engaging in creativity and imagination over time, we build up a large network of synapses, which in turn allow us to make connections and new understandings of our world. Artmaking also offers a particularly valuable way to stimulate the visual processing system and develop fine motor skills.

With a few simple tips, tricks and materials, children can independently participate in artmaking and can readily experience deep engagement with the creative process. But artmaking can also be enjoyed together as a family. Working alongside children, parents and carers can follow instructions to learn a new skill together, model a familiar technique or help navigate creative frustrations and artmaking challenges (even the most experienced artists hit roadblocks!).

What are your tips to encourage children to trade screens for creativity?

One of the most troubling impacts of excessive screen time is the loss of imagination. And a world without imagination would be a very sad place indeed! It’s not surprising that children have developed addictive tendencies towards mobile devices as they get a dopamine hit – the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure – every time their swipe response offers a reward. Even a simple sound or picture as reward for a screen-interaction provides immediate gratification.

As parents, we need to help our children find those gratifying feelings of pleasure in the real world. We need to be coaches for the imagination. This requires getting on the field ourselves, mucking in and making a mess with our kids. You’ll find some super simple and playful ideas to get you started at the Art Gallery of New South Wales Together in Art project. Here you can find a brand-new series of artist-led ‘How-to’ videos, with new editions added each week. You can also find a great selection of books to kick start your creative play. One of my favourites is ‘Mess: the manual of accidents and mistakes’ by Keri Smith.

Which is your favourite art projects for children on Together In Art / Together In Art Kids?

It is impossible to name a favourite! Each of the activities and projects offer a fresh starting point for artmaking. We’ve invited different artists who work in different ways to contribute, meaning that you’ll always find new inspiration for your art.

How to draw a face with Ben and Livvy Quilty

How to make a DADA poem with Tony Albert and Bree

Can you tell us a little more about Together in Art?

Together in Art is the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ new online social project providing meaningful encounters with art through an open platform of imagination, inspiration and creativity during the temporary closure of the Gallery. It features new commissions, pocket exhibitions, artist projects, innovative performances, virtual visits to artist studios and inspiring artmaking workshops and activities for children and adults alike.

As part of the project, Art Gallery of NSW has teamed up with the ABC to present Together in Art Kids.  This initiative was designed by ABC Health expert Dr Norman Swan to inspire and support children isolated from their friends and community due to COVID-19. Each month, an Australian artist invite primary-aged children to create an artwork to a theme using materials at home. The artworks can then be photographed and submitted to Together in Art Kids. A selection of artworks will be curated into an online exhibition to be shared with audiences around the world and will capture a snapshot of this moment in time through the eyes of children. Award-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton is the first participating artist with the theme of ‘inner worlds.’ We are looking forward to sharing the creativity of children across the country.

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