Young Artists in Action: How Art Helps Teens Know Themselves

By Milan Art Institute on February 9, 2021
Young Artists in Action: How Art Helps Teens Know Themselves

Photo caption: Constantino “Dino” Milan is an example of a young artist who discovered his voice through art. Image courtesy of Milan Art Institute.

Teen’s quest for self-discovery is often a relentless, raging fire that burns inside. It represents the struggle that all adolescents face. They’re not children anymore nor are they adults. 

This puts them in a precarious position. The person who knows him- or herself is likely to be less swayed by the opinions of others than the person who doesn’t have such self-knowledge. Because the teen years are years filled with identity changes, they can be swayed by things that aren’t as empowering for them.

Fortunately, art can rescue teens from this situation. As recent scientific discoveries have revealed, art counts as an excellent vehicle for self-discovery, personal mastery and the development of self-esteem.

What Happens to Kids During the Teen Years?

According to Psychology Today, during their adolescent years, teens begin to perceive themselves as unique people. They start to understand that they are separate from others, including their parents and their families. 

This is a mental adjustment at the identity level for teens. This often prompts them to do things they’ve been warned not to do: In other words, they’ll push against the rules and values they’ve been taught in order to figure out their place in things.

It also means they’re striving to align with their own personal mission in life. On the negative side of things, this may mean trouble-making of all kinds. However, (and more encouragingly), it may also mean they’re doing fund drives or collecting items to donate to the less fortunate. 

How Teens Use Art to Discover Themselves

One of the ways that parents can help their teens through this time of change is to encourage them to engage in activities that allow them to discover themselves. To make art is to search for what it is about us that makes us, well, us. 

Drawing and doodling, as well as painting or mixed media activities, allow teens to confront their conditioned responses to things. For example, a teen may like to make very precise, photorealistic drawings. 

However, an online art class may challenge them to experiment with different brush or pencil strokes. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to paint or draw in a photorealistic style, young artists (or even experienced artists) often default to this. They’ve been conditioned to do so. If after truly trying to master painting with loose brush strokes, they feel committed to making photorealistic art, they will then know that this is a style of art that’s truly them and not a conditioned response. 

Art has a way of boldly challenging assumptions, cultural training and other unconscious factors. Sometimes, who we are is only revealed when we embrace the opposite for a time.

As we have already suggested, the teen years are years where everything is in question. They are ripe with opposites. Providing teens with a mode of artistic expression gives them a safe environment to push against rules and values. 

Video caption: Dimitra Milan talks about changing the world through art. 

How Art Can Give Teens Courage and Optimism

Another way art can help teens is by giving them a sense of optimism. This comes from the fact that the brain is a predictive machine. Everyone, including your teen, bases his or her assumptions (and by extension, his or her actions) on the experiences they have had before. 

However, by creating art, young artists can change what the brain predicts. Each time your teen creates a new piece of art, he or she must figure out which elements should go where. Doing painting, drawing and mixed media activities allows teens to imagine different, more empowering possibilities. 

Making a new outcome in art often means eventually making a new outcome in life, because art teaches them to counteract the brain’s automatic predictive quality. This can spur them on to excellence and provide them with the courage to make the difficult choices ahead as they progress on into adulthood. This is part of the self-discovery journey, too. 

Making Art Allows Them to Leave Their Mark

While this statement might be literal, it’s also figurative, too. Most people have an inner drive to be truly seen and to gain victories, both large and small in life. Creating art is a tangible way for teens to leave their mark on the world. 

Art provides them with a record of who they are and what was important to them during a challenging time in their lives. As Shawn McNiff in Art as Medicine puts it: “Art is an articulator of the soul’s uncensored purpose and deepest will.” 

For some teens, these activities spur them on to create admirable careers as young artists. However, they can’t know that this is their path until they’re allowed to follow their passions. A solid online art school and art classes can give them the tools they need to not only develop art skills, but also to develop the business know-how required to work in a creative field. 

Learn More About How Art Benefits Kids of all Ages

What I Wish I Knew as a Beginner Artist

The Role That Arts Integration Plays in Visual Memory

My Mastery Program Journey: One Student’s Vlog of His Mastery Program Experience

Milan Art Institute
Milan Art Institute

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