How you will learn to love ugly art

Every year I tell give St. Paul’s Lower School parents some advice about Art:

– Send your kids to school on Art days in the same uniform (that way they get the same clothes messy each week)
– Follow my classes on social media so you can see what your kids are up to
– Talk with your kids about what they create
– Know that your kid is going to make some ugly art


lower-school-ugly-art4Typically that last bit is met with some laughter and nodding, and honestly, I do it to lighten the mood while at the same time, letting them know that ugliness is part of the learning process.  Kids aren’t supposed to make beautiful Pinterest-worthy gems each time they create!  The learning process is messy and primitive and interesting and wonderful.  The goal is not to make something that you can hang on the wall, or print out as a holiday card, or make into a case for your cell phone.  The goal is to have kids who are passionate about what they are learning.  The goal is to have kids who can talk freely about how and why they are mixing primary colors to get secondary colors.  We want them to be able to explain their process, to think through their process and to understand why and how they are making these decisions.  These young artists should be cognizant of their decision-making process.  They should be able to figure out what went wrong/right, and then duplicate or change the entire thing.  

I tell parents to ask their kids about their art.  I tell them they don’t have to pretend to know what the drawing is.  Asking an open ended question about what their child brings home allows the child to tell the story of how they created the piece.  And what’s super cool is that the story is going to change!  Kids’ ideas of their art often change from the time they start the drawing, to when they are mid way through, to when they take them home.  My favorite example is a Kindergarten student who was making a monster drawing.  I came around, student to student, to ask what they were working on.  He explained that the green boxes he had drawn were people that the monster had turned into frogs.  Next week, as he completed his work, he came to me to tell me the story.  I said, “oh yes, I remember!  They are frogs!”  He looked at me like I was insane, and told me a brand new story he had created.  Stories change, imaginations are hard at work, and artistic exploration continues to grow.

lower-school-ugly-artThere is value when a student figures out that mixing all the primary colors will result in a sludge color.  There’s strength in that moment when a Kindergartener realizes if they douse their clay in water, it’ll turn to mud.  There’s meaning when a Fourth grader finally grasps the concept of composition by cropping an image just so.  All of these small moments build within the student until it all comes together in this perfect storm that results (hopefully) in something that is both meaningful and beautiful.  I always promise the parents that at some point, somewhere down the line, their kid is going to bring something home that they will want to frame.  But it probably won’t happen right away. 

Camille Gammon-Hittelman

Camille Gammon-Hittelman

Camille Gammon-Hittelman, or “Ms.G-H”, as her students call her, is the Lower School Art Teacher. She began teaching at St. Paul’s in 2005, and started her teaching in Baltimore County two years before that. She can be reached at

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