I recently wrote about children making art.

It’s exciting to watch. They know instinctively what materials to use and how to express their ideas in a fresh way.

I think it’s important for kids to learn about collage by great artists like Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet and others.

The image below shows collage in progress by two 2nd grade students at the Williams Elementary School. Notice the line drawing by Romare Bearden sitting on top of papers near the green scissor.

Students do collage

The image below is Bearden’s collage titled The Block. Image: the Internet. Made in 17 fiberboard and plywood panels. Media includes various papers with foil, paint,ink, and graphite. You can see The Block at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC (August 30, 2011 – January 8, 2012).

The Block, Romare Bearden


Do you suppose children’s art is good enough to show in a contemporary art gallery? I think so. It can be bold, inventive, and charming.

My last post was about a collage exhibition with works by children in the 8th grade. I talked a lot about how the works were framed and installed in the gallery.

I didn’t mean to imply that framing and gallery installation was responsible for how good the art works looked.  Good framing always helps, but the young students made good art. Read about the exhibition…

Picasso said all children are artists and the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.

Do you think it’s true that young children are freer at making art than adults?

I remember a talented 10-year-old girl in a collage class I taught last summer.  She was so confident and competent.

She selected and cut all the collage papers she planned to use before she placed or glued any papers down. She didn’t plan her collage in advance. She built her collage as she glued. The process was seamless, direct and accomplished.

She was also the only child in the class.

I did an experiment last Sunday. I asked 3 of my grandchildren to make a collage based on The Block by Romare Bearden. Alexander is in 4th grade. Sofia is in 2nd grade. Aaron is in Kindergarten.  I showed them 3 drawings and a color print of The Block by Romare Bearden.

The image above is a poster for the exhibition Romare Bearden 1911-1988: A Centennial Celebration (August 30, 2011 – January 8, 2012).  Image: the Internet

Do you see that Bearden included an interior view of people, including a person sitting in the stairwell?


I brought along pre-cut papers and larger 9×12 inch paper in several different colors. I brought white Bristol paper for a substrate (the base of the collage). I brought black fine-point markers, glue in squeeze bottles, and plastic squeegees to press down collage papers. They had their own assorted color markers.

We talked about the buildings in their neighborhood. I said it was important to include lots of windows and show detail in the windows. I said remember to include doors, entry steps, architectural details within and above windows, and a view of people or pets in the windows (I showed them how Bearden included people). I suggested they embellish the rooftops with details.

The fine-point marker pens were the most interesting to them, so the collages all started as drawings. Each grandchild wanted to cut their own building blocks from the larger sheets, and cut windows from the medium size papers.

They image below is by Sofia.

Collage and drawing by Sofia

Sofia loved the pen with the brush tip and began to draw immediately on the right lower portion of her paper. The collage was glued in and around the drawing, and when the blocks were too wide for the paper, she slipped one behind the other. She used a light blue marker to color in the sky.

The image below is by Alexander.

Drawing and collage by Alexander

Alexander worked with the fine-line marker and drew details. He added a tall sculpture on a rooftop, added drawings of people inside and wrote numbers and words next to and within the buildings. He was very interested in how buildings have different window configurations. We talked about how older buildings may have high ceilings so windows are taller.

The image below is by Aaron.

Collage by Aaron

Aaron built his collage by first layering papers (windows) on building blocks. His buildings were constructed one by one. He cut the building blocks from large pieces of paper so the edges are not perfect rectangles. He cut thin, long triangular papers to fix the edges where they were irregular. He drew an elevator shaft in the blue building and added a collaged traffic light.

Each grandchild’s collage looks different and reflects their unique interests and focus.

Have you observed the way children make art? How do you think the work varies by age?

In December 2011, I will teach young students again at the Williams Elementary School and will watch and observe how they work and the ways they build their collages. I also want to see if and how they watch each other as they work.

Read more about the exhibition Romare Bearden 1911-1988: A Centennial Celebration (August 30, 2011 – January 8, 2012).

Bearden worked in collage – it dominated his studio practice the last 25 years of his life. His collages included magazine clippings, fabric, old photographs and colored papers.

Read about other centennial events in honor of Romare Bearden…

Also at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Don’t Miss The 9/11 Peace Story Quilt designed and constructed by Faith Ringgold in collaboration with NYC students ages 8-18 (through January 22, 2012). Another great exhibition with children!

I hope you get a chance to see the many shows that honor Romare Bearden on the centennial of his birth.

Please add your comments below about childrens’ art and collage by Romare Bearden. Thank you.

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