Bright red, yellow and blue paint are laid in small cups at the base of an easel. A child, smocked from head to toe is given the opportunity to use these paints, not with their typical brush in hand but with their bare fingers. They are freely allowed to dip their fingers into the paint and smear it onto the canvas. Without restriction, they independently experiment with mixing colours and create different shapes, lines and forms. The cold, wet paint on their fingers is liberating – freeing their mind, setting at liberty the ability to create whatever they want in an unconventional, messy way.
Finger painting is an art form typically thought of when we think of children’s art. Without a detailed set of instructions, the child doesn’t focus on producing something specific or conforming their art to achieve a certain outcome; instead they just get to express themselves through the medium of paint. This freedom allows them to focus on the process (being the act of painting) as opposed to the product. Being able to focus on the process is a skill that with some development is a basic form of problem solving. Yes it may be messy and yes the end product may not look like anything, but for the child the experience of finger painting is what matters.
Finger painting has also been developed as an effective type of therapy. It is a positive form of self-expression that helps many to heal emotionally. The ability to pour out feelings in the form of art helps many to overcome some of the negative thoughts that they may have stored inside. For a teacher, this may be a way to reach those in the classroom with behaviour problems who are unable or unwilling to communicate. Finger painting may be the medium in which they can comfortably express themselves. It is also a way for you as a teacher to communicate positively with the student. If you praise their work, they will feel accomplished- a rare feeling for many children who are constantly reprimanded for their behaviour.
Finger painting is also considered by some to be a true art form. Mary Ann Brandt was a famous finger painter that did incredible work. She stated: “I love painting with my fingers. Getting my hands into the colours is exciting and feels good. And I like what happens on the paper.” Her work proves that amazing things can be done with a medium that is so simple. Tyler Ramsey, another professional finger painter claims that, “Rejecting brushes gives a painter the opportunity to approach the craft from a fresh perspective.” Finger painting is not just for young children, but for any age group looking for a new medium in which to express their selves.
Although we may not see masterful works of art in the paintings our students create, they will see beauty in their art because it is truly an expression of their inner most thoughts. Praise what they have done and encourage them to create from their heart. Your students will start to feel a connection to the paints and may, after some practice, create wonderful works of art. For those students that are hesitant to experiment with colour, don’t be afraid yourself to do a hands on demonstration and get messy; you may be surprised at what comes out of the end of your fingers.
So, when you pass out those finger paints to your students, keep some for yourself, open up your mind and create.