"REAL" ART? Really?

My eleven-teen daughter has taken to repeating my seemingly unbelievable statements and then appending them with the rhetorical "really, Mom?" I found myself using the same when recently looking for an art class to give her as a birthday gift. (Ironic, I know, but I teach many a little person to sew that come from a family of seamstresses- who wants to learn from their own family of experts? Remember learning to drive a car and how many familial arguments that would spur?) I found what I thought was the perfect class- curriculum looked right, time fit the schedule and the location was an easy walk. And I almost went through with it, when the online description of the class began to loop in my mind: "REAL" ART. Philosophers have been debating this forever- we're still doing it. Defining it seems to almost always require a circular reference. "REAL" ART. Really?

Kids like to make stuff. They naturally know it's good for them. There are times when parents might feel obligated to resort to something easy to help them along- there's an entire aisle of easy at big supply stores. But part of what is so amazing about the creative process is the problem-solving skills that it fosters...when we thought we were only playing. I know that my kids will tire of me being a constant coach for building their creative muscle, so I've looked around town for places and things that, in my humble process-over-result opinion, are open-ended fun for kids of all ages without presuming we need to be told how to be creative or when our art is, ugh, real.

-Pick a warm indoor space, like one of our many museums offering free-admission for the rest of January. People-watch but only from the knees down. Take turns crafting stories about the people you see. Where do they work? Are they friends or sisters? Where else have they been today, or where are they going next?

-Pick up a book to bridge the busy-parent gap: Green Genes in Andersonville also stocks the planet- and thereby kid-friendly art supplies you need to go with it. (And if you forget the book in the diaper bag by the front door, there is always napkin-doodling: take turns making a small scribble and ask your playmates to describe what they see by having them add to the drawing.)

-Pick a really packed vintage store, like Hoard in Ravenswood. Browse every corner of the shop and find one little intriguing thing. Don't hoard, just pick one thing (this will help focus your energy.) Now do something with it. It can be as simple as creating a small still-life sanctuary in your home or a complete photo-essay of your thing enjoying your favorite places around town. Or turn it into a lamp or a journal cover or a fascinator hat! Let the thing and your new perspective be the clues to its new life as a __________.

-Watching clouds can be endless fun. What do you see? It's a fluffy Rorschach game for family and friends, which can be a cool way to get to know a little more about each other's point of view. To keep warm, drive to the top of a parking garage and peep from a car (free is best, and these are two of my favorites: 2939 W Addison St & 1550 N. Kingsbury St.) or pick your favorite skyscraper. If we weren't in our 2nd of 3 annual winter seasons, I'd recommend a different location conducive to prone viewing, but the activity is the same, just at a different angle.

-Dramatic play is as creative as it gets. And highly-entertaining improv comedy, too, for anyone eavesdropping. Say goodbye to clunky-germy plastic-play and say hello to Little Beans Cafe in Bucktown. The playspace is a storekeeper/mechanic/fireman/pretend-mommy haven, and parents can stay comfortably close by while sipping or noshing. Eavesdropping on the grown-ups might be as entertaining and creative while the eavesdropper crafts assumptions about the context of the conversation. (Did I just write that?)

Bored in the winter? Hardly. Real creative fun? Really. (For more about art from the mouths of babes, see this short-film created by a tween.)