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Expression Versus Catharsis

We want children to express themselves, but we don't want them to react and confuse creation with catharsis. Catharsis is not creation; it is only a release of pressure. When children paint in a cathartic way, they paint as if they were beating a pillow. They usually are in a state of tension, painting without respecting what they did before, mistreating the brushes, and making a mess.

Cathartic paintings happen sometimes at the beginning of children's process. They feel so lost about finding their creative inspiration that they paint by using quick and wild scribbling gestures (not to be confused with the natural scribbling that very young children do when they first start painting). Sometimes they even try to dip their hands in the paint and apply them to the paper, or use sponges or other props for quick and wild actions. They get rid of nervous energy in that way, but they do not move toward Point Zero. When they finish they feel better for a few minutes, but have nothing to go on with.

How can we guide children to tap into their creative potential and find Point Zero when they are so full of nervous energy and impatience? We can do it by bringing them back to themselves beyond their superficial reactions and by interesting them in inventing. We need to stay by their side until they find an authentic thread to follow. We can ask them questions to stir their creative potential out of its sleep.

Questioning should always be playful and full of enthusiasm about the possible outcome. We could, for instance, ask with excitement:

  • "What would you do if you could paint absolutely anything in the whole world, without worrying? If you could really do anything?"
  • "What could you paint if you could paint slowly and with care?"
  • "What if you could start with one big (or small) image?"
  • "What if you could paint something about your life?"

These questions encourage children to feel, without forcing them into a particular outcome. We offer a general direction, a vast space, but we are focusing on their feelings of the moment.

More on: Crafts for Kids

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From Kids Play: Igniting Children's Creativity by Michele Cassou. Copyright © 2004 by Michele Casso. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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