I’ve been surrounded by artists most of my life since my mother, sister and husband are artists. I’ve observed something they all have in common–a high tolerance for mess. However to them, the artistic process is not “mess,” nor does it need tolerating. Wet brushes, paint globs, scraps of paper, glitter splashes, mismatched crayons and uncapped markers are all a part of creation. The last thing on an artist’s mind while conceiving her latest masterpiece is capping a marker, wiping up a spill, or picking little scraps of paper off the floor.
My childhood was full of creative “mess.” In our basement, a long picnic table stood by the picture window year round. At Halloween it was covered with orange, brown, black and purple construction paper scraps in addition to a school box containing scissors, Elmer’s glue, tape, paper clips, rubber bands, brads, old googly eyes, a few tidily winks, a marble or two and whatever else wandered into this not-often-sorted-by-adults box. At Christmas, the creations turned primarily to a red, green and white motif. Felt, rick-rack, beads and ribbon also were available on the art table. Hours of mostly-unsupervised fun happened around this table year round. Creativity was spurred on as we followed our imaginations, often no template or adult in sight.
My artist sister followed in our mother’s footsteps. Her basement is a space dedicated to art possibility and is filled with works-in-progress. Half-done paintings. Brushes sitting in a cup of brownish water. Finished pictures taped proudly on the walls. Bins of paint. Stacks of colored papers. Lumps of clay in various phases of finish. Throughout the years, her children spent hours in that basement creating because they could do it all on their own. They didn’t need a parent to help them find, setup, or clean up their art space. One of them is a graduate student in art today.
My niece is a five-year-old girl who draws and paints prolifically. She often wakes before her parents and happily paints or draws at her art table for an hour at a time. Strewn with her creations, dried paint jars, hard brushes and a littering of crayons and markers, her wise mother has allowed a space for her budding artist, not constraining her with worries about drips on carpets or meticulous daily clean ups.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m making a case for having a messy art table! Such a space allows kids to be creative when the mood strikes. This is especially important if you have artistic kids, however most kids love to make stuff because it’s just plain fun. I have struggled to allow a permanent messy table in our small home. I admire my sister-in-law and friends who, for the sake of their children, have given over a non-basement part of their homes to artistic creation (a.k.a. mess). I have compromised by keeping a messy table up for days at a time. It is better than nothing, but likely not adequate to nurture the gift of those truly creative kids, like my niece.
Some of my sweetest childhood memories involve the messy table! Perhaps this Christmas you could give your children the gift of a messy table—a gift they’ll enjoy all year—even if it’s up sporadically like mine. In addition to giving them a table, you must also buy extra art supplies–to replace the markers they forget to cover, the paint jars left open and the dried up glue sticks. Once you embrace the concept of a messy art table, you will likely find that it gives back to you–free time as your children happily play and joy when they proudly show you their creations. Maybe you’ll find you’ve nurtured their career too!
-posted by Donna Detweiler, whose concept of “mess” is changing as she sees it through the eyes of her artist family.