KU Quarterly April 2019 - Page 2

THE MYTH OF MESS: THINKING ABOUT MESSY VISUAL ARTS EXPERIENCES BY DR GAI LINDSAY Do you love messy art making with children? When you see social media images of children covered in paint do you cheer or cringe? Many will have seen (or even made) foyer display posters which feature a deliberately paint splattered outfit surrounded by words such as engagement, respect and creativity and urging families to embrace messy play as an inevitable, fun-filled pathway to exploration and creativity. Does art-making that results in stains and splatters truly achieve the creative and developmental outcomes these display posters claim? As a parent and early childhood practitioner of many years and now as a university lecturer responsible for training pre-service teachers, I truly appreciate the much-contested fine line between open-ended, free exploration with materials and the point at which such exploration has the potential to become destructive or even disrespectful of the preferences and dispositions of individual children and adults. Many early childhood educators unquestioningly believe that messy visual arts play is automatically a form of creative expression. However, as reflective educators, it is important that we ask questions and challenge our assumptions about messy visual arts experiences. Page 2 For example: Does mess-making always equal creativity? Do I avoid planning arts experiences because they might be hard to manage and clean-up? Do my pedagogical choices and preferences constrict or expand children’s visual arts learning and development and creative potential? Do messy visual arts experiences challenge notions of sustainable practice and use of materials? How can I respectfully consider the cultural and personal preferences of parents in relation to visual arts experiences that may be messy? Do ALL children love messy play experiences or do some children experience distress? My PhD research, which explored the visual arts beliefs and pedagogy of early childhood educators in four Australian early childhood centres, revealed a range of contradictory beliefs about messy arts experiences. Several participants valued messy play, while others questioned the assumed links between visual arts mess-making and creativity. Some paid lip service to the creative www.ku.com.au APRIL 2019