What role does art play in children’s lives?

A few weeks ago I was interviewed for a newsletter published by the Arts & Humanities Department at Teachers College Columbia University. The full article should be on their website soon, but in the meanwhile, here is an excerpt:

What role does art play in children’s lives from infancy through their preschool years?

I believe artistic experiences can play a very important role in children’s lives. From infanthood, children explore the world through their bodies and senses, so it’s important that they can experiment with materials that can safely be mouthed, handled, and manipulated in different ways. As young children experiment with materials, they gradually learn that their actions have consequences and can change something in the world. For example, while playing with paints, children may realize that they made a mark where there was none – they created something where there was nothing! And then later they might come to understand that every time they make that gesture (say a wide arm movement), a long kind of mark appears on the paper. These might seem like small things, but they can be incredibly special and important. Over time and with continuing exploration, children keep discovering new characteristics of the different materials, as well as the possibilities those materials objects offer. This will amplify their artistic repertoires.

Another important aspect, I believe, is interacting with artwork made by other artists. While observing and discussing art, children may, for example, notice elements that speak to them and eventually inspire them to create. They may begin to understand that each individual has unique ideas or ways of exploration. This allows them to “put themselves in others’ shoes,” exercising empathy and social skills. When children assume the role of curators in putting together their own exhibitions, they have the opportunities to engage in decision-making as individuals and as part of a community, as well as to use their aesthetic sense or ability, to notice and make connections between specific visual elements or artworks.