Why Children Should Paint: The Necessity of Creative Expression

Michele Cassou

Children have a natural craving to express themselves. Painting for them is not just another subject to be learned, it is a living process by which they move through events and feelings. It has the quality of adventure, of exploration. The surprise of what happens next is the enjoyment.

Creativity is very simple for children, it is just doing what they really want. But at first children who come to paint don't know what they want. They are afraid of not doing well, they want to know how, what to copy or imitate. They think the painting does not look good enough, or realistic enough. They come to me and ask "What is the color of the sky?" I tell them that there are many colors for the sky. I want them to invent everything. I want them to discover that they are going to find all the answers inside. It is very important to put children in a position where they have nothing to rely on except themselves. It is the only way for them to enter more into their feelings, to express more of their world. Children have such an incredibly rich life, so many things happen to them, and so much needs to be expressed.

When children start moving with the force of their creativity, you can see the breath and the posture changing, and the face. It touches the complete being. Their natural curiosity for discovery is stimulated and they very quickly become more confident and more intelligent in what they do. Not the intelligence of the intellect, developed through accumulating knowledge and facts—although that is affected too—but the spontaneous intelligence that directs their ability to respond and to grow, to be more healthy.

There is often a moment in painting when the child does not know what to paint. These blank spots are often uncomfortable, and the child wants to stop, or to cross the painting in black. I am careful never to let the children destroy what they have done—because in doing so they are denying themselves. Difficult feelings can always be expressed in a more creative way. These hard times are actually very important, because they mean something is about to be born. I encourage children to keep  painting during these moments, to dig further into themselves until there is an opening and surprise comes. In doing this they start revealing themselves to themselves, and they become interested.

It is very important to find the right environment where children are given the structure and permission to paint this way—without judgment or comparison. Flattery or praise can be as destructive to creativity as criticism. True support comes from respecting the child’s own desire to create just for the doing of it, not for the result. Children want to paint for themselves, not for others. If they are imitating or performing in order to please, it becomes just work, nothing really important can happen. But if they are following the basic needs of their own expression, they don't need adults to tell them it is good or it is beautiful, because they have the fulfillment in the process. They develop a sense of trust in their creative abilities, and grow in their originality and power of invention.

Do you know how children sometimes surprise or embarrass us because they say things just the way they are? It is because they still have intact the integrity of their natural perception. In a way, this is the true function of expression in children to protect and develop their capacity to respond directly to life, to perceive things as they really are.