I can’t recall ever having referred to children’s art experiences primarily as messy art. It is certainly an accurate description, as they do tend to get messy if the medium allows for it.
The term, however, doesn’t connect to children’s art, exploratory or otherwise, for me.
Most often, when I watch children play and use art mediums, I notice that they are not getting messy for the sake of getting messy – messy just happens on the way to discovery. I’ve seen infants crawl through paint, usually to reach something. Toddlers, on the other hand, will often cover every inch of exposed skin. But, in those cases, it’s always very purposefully.
In the classroom, I remember caring for two children in particular who would pause during art, looking at the paint or art on their hands, but they would always still get past the mess because of their interest in the material. They were interested in artistic experiences, despite the mess.
For me, descriptions such as “exploration,” “focus,” or “wonder” are more specific terms that elaborate on children’s artistic experiences and help me to appreciate these moments.