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Be kind. Encourage compassion. Inspire creativity. Nurture courage. Grow your mind.

How to Nurture Creative Self-Expression in Children

December 14, 2022

By: Derek Fordjour,  American interdisciplinary artist and educator

Nurturing creative self-expression in children is so important. Why? Because there are many aspects of our lived experience and emotional reality that are too complex and overwhelming to be expressed with words. Fortunately, art enables people to channel their energy– love, hopes, fears, ambitions, sadness and even rage by transferring energy from themselves into raw material. We all have a deep need to feel seen and heard, and art allows both children and adults to experience this viscerally.

I began making art as a child around 3 years old. One of my best therapists observed that it was a space of great empowerment for me because I was in total control and made all of the decisions. From an early age, creative projects gave me a sense of power. Fortunately, this is still very true for me, and can become true for all children if their imagination and artistic expression is encouraged and nurtured through art education. 

The importance of art education

When a child becomes fluent in artistic expression, they become empowered. And,  empowered kids are kind, confident and compassionate kids. Arguably, imagination is one of the single most important attributes in early development. Art education engages the creative mind in ways that liberal arts education simply does not. A comprehensive artistic and cultural education, in addition to core subjects, educates the whole child.

How to nurture kids’ imagination and artistic expression

My biggest tip for parents who hope to encourage their kids’ imaginations is to LEAVE THEM ALONE! Yes, I said it. One of the worst things I have witnessed parents do is become overly involved in the artistic expression of their children. 

As a fellow parent, I know how difficult it can be to leave a child on their own to work independently–especially when they exhibit great potential. But, if there is one thing I become more and more certain of with time and experience, it is that the creative impulse needs freedom to grow. Encouragement and support are always good, but I encourage parents to do so from a safe distance.

My passion for art education and expression inspired me to launch Contemporary Arts Memphis Summer Fellowship to help young artists imagine their futures as visual artist professionals. 

About Contemporary Arts Memphis Summer Fellowship

Memphis is a city where, if you are born with musical talent, you can very likely find a path to a professional career as a musician. If you are born with a talent for movement, we have a local ballet company and a modern dance company, as well. If you are born with theatrical talent, we have local theater. However, if you are born with a talent for visual art, there is not a clear path beyond the classroom to help you imagine a future as a visual arts professional.

Contemporary Arts Memphis is uniquely positioned to intervene in the lives of young artists at a crucial stage in their development. We want to expose them to working artists, the best art in the world and to world-class museums. We want to expand their personal networks and help them realize the best possible art at their stage. We are interested in expanding their personal networks, providing mentorship, experiential learning, college level instruction, opportunities for travel, and so much more at no cost. Learn more about the summer fellowship here

About Derek Fordjour

Derek Fordjour was born in 1974 in Memphis, Tennessee to parents of Ghanaian heritage. He earned a BA at Morehouse College before receiving an MEd in Arts Education at Harvard University and an MFA in painting at Hunter College. He was recently appointed the Alex Katz Chair at Cooper Union and serves as a Core Critic at the Yale School of Art. He was named the 2016 Sugarhill Museum Artist-in-Residence and the 2018 Deutsche Bank NYFA Fellow.

Derek’s work has been exhibited in numerous venues including The Whitney Museum of American Art; BAM, Brooklyn; and Josh Lilley Gallery, London. He has received commissions for public projects including a permanent installation for Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City at 145th Street Subway Station and The Whitney Museum Billboard Project. He was awarded 2016 Sugarhill Museum Artist-in-Residence, the 2017 Sharpe Walentas Studio Program in New York City, and named the 2018 Deutsche Bank NYFA Fellowship Award. His work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Financial Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Hyperallergic. He has also been featured in several publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and Forbes Magazine. He was recently appointed The Alex Katz Chair at Cooper Union and serves as a Core Critic at Yale University School of Art. His work also appears in several collections including The Studio Museum of Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, Perez Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum and LACMA.

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