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What is Open Ended Art?

Open ended art is about the experience of creating, not just the end result.  While I believe there is a real purpose in art projects and crafts, especially for learning to follow directions and follow themes, it’s a wonderful thing to enjoy the process of making art.  When considering a painting experience, it becomes open ended when the end result has no limitations.  Instead of ‘paint a tree’, open ended art is ‘use some paints and paper.’  The adult’s role is to provide some art materials, and a space for using the materials.  This is where free creativity and imagination happen.
When asking my daughters what they’d like to do over vacation, we discussed an art camp we went to last summer.  What was their favorite part?  The open ended mural painting, the open ended clay sculpting, and the open ended collage. They enjoyed the process of creating so much, they never ended up taking the work home.  The art wasn’t for the end product.   What was their least favorite part?  The projects.  They didn’t like having to do exactly what everyone else did, at the same exact pace as the group.  Creating art without an example allows the child to come to their own conclusions about it’s beauty.  Working with real artist-quality art materials for the sake of creating will give a child the chance to experience their own abilities, without comparisons.

There are lovely books on Open Ended Art for Children, here are my favorites:
Totline 1-2-3 Art
Preschool Art: It’s The Process, Not The Product
First Art: Art Experiences For Toddlers And Twos

“The creative adult is the child who has survived.” – Ursula K. LeGuin

Jessie is a mother of three beautiful daughters (twin tots & a preschooler), an AMS trained Montessori teacher of 40 students, and a wife to one. Jessie has a background in dance, a yoga certification, and a Masters in Early Childhood Education. Jessie has a childhood education blog at This post will be linked up to One Hook Wonder.



Friday 23rd of August 2013

I am a big supporter of open-ended art. In fact, all of our projects end up being open-ended by the time my 4-year-old is through with them! lol


Sunday 18th of December 2011

Whoop whoop. While I love doing projects, open ended art are where the real creations are made and the most fun is had!


Thursday 24th of March 2011

Great post! We love open-ended art projects over here too. Thanks for linking to Montessori Monday. :)

Katie Hurley, LCSW

Thursday 24th of March 2011

Jessie-I LOVE this post!!! As a child psychotherapist, I am a HUGE fan of open ended art! We love to do seasonal projects at home, but for the most part I just let my kids pick their supplies and create whatever strikes them. My 4 year old produces some amazing "designs". I'm so glad you wrote about this! It's easy to become focused on the project, but the process is where kids learn and grow. Spot on!Katie

Leisure Treasure

Monday 21st of March 2011

I love this post! While many activities we do have a planned final result, I always love seeing the excitement and fun on LOs face when 'working' on an open end project.