Art plays a central role in Lisa Richard’s family. When they prepared for a trip to the mountains last spring, for example, hiking boots weren’t only items at the top of their packing list. The Mount Vernon mother of three filled a box with canvases, paints and printing supplies.
“I enjoyed the realization that creating a space for art is creating a place where everyone in our family can connect,” said Richards.
In fact, Richards and her children, ages 17, 14 and 10, have studied “art as mindfulness” at Art at the Center in Mount Vernon. Co-founder and director Kathryn Horn Coneway says incorporating mindfulness and art allows parents to be engaged completely in an activity with their children, free of distractions.
“Mindfulness is being present and aware in the moment. By being fully present with young children, we invite them to explore materials openly with support,” said Coneway. “As children get older, we begin to talk about idea generation and stages of the creative process. Modeling mindfulness helps us to support children through frustration and to build persistence and creative confidence.”
Richards says this allows her to let go of stress and distractions and bask in the joy of an activity with her children. “When you share with a child the feel of cold, wet clay in your hands or the surprise of what happens when colors mix together, it’s hard to be distracted by much else,” said Richard. “There is a sense of connection comes from that shared focus. Making art with a child creates a natural opportunity to be truly present, together, in what is happening right now.”
One of the most important aspects of art as mindfulness, says Coneway, is the emphasis it places on letting go of the need to control.
“When you shift from feeling you have to control the process to thinking of art with kids as setting up a place for something to happen, it creates a freedom for the adult as well as for the child,” she said. “It allows both to be more present and enjoy the experience more. My best days are when I set things up and the kids take things in directions that completely surprise me. I am so enthralled with watching and waiting to see what happens next that I can’t help but be present.”
Like Richards, many parents also appreciate the opportunity to find calm in the middle of a chaotic day.
“In the crazy hubbub of daily life … there were few moments when I could say I truly stopped and noticed just one thing at a time, when I was actually mindful,” said Jennifer Fournel, a Mount Vernon mother who has attended classes at Art at the Center for four years. “But going to art classes with Leal opened my eyes to what’s possible when that happens. In this safe, open, welcoming space, the two of us entered and were held only to the expectation that we explore what was before us and see what we could make.”
Mindfulness is also incorporated in adult classes at Art at the Center, said Coneway. The next adult class is a labyrinth making session where students create maze-like patterns that are inlaid in clay. For more information, visit www.artatthecenter.org.