Children’s artwork goes through stages

     As Picasso once noted, all children are artists.  Their art goes through distinct stages as they develop and learn more about what paints, brushes and clay will do for them.  It is our job, as adults, to encourage them in each stage, because it has been proven over and over that children who experience and enjoy making art will, in later years, become more creative and well-rounded people who are better able to solve problems.

     Tiny children simply enjoy holding a crayon and making marks with it; the marks don’t have to mean anything — it’s the process that counts.  After a while the marks become pictures representing things important to the child — parents, grandparents, other children, pets, the house and the car, often in that order.  All children think about themselves first and then think outward to their surroundings.  So these first pictures are all about the child’s life:  “Me,” “My Mommy,” “Me on the Bus,” “Me Riding my Tricycle,” etc. 

     As the child develops, he/she gets more self-confident and begins to draw pictures of other things, for other reasons.  He may use drawings to vent emotions, control fears, or arrange his thoughts.  He may sometimes draw pictures to get attention; “Look what I made!”

     About the time they start school, children’s artwork begins to follow rigid conventions to show reality as the child understands it.  The sky might be a blue streak across the top of the page, and the ground a green strip across the bottom.  People in these drawings now have clothing; there may be arms that stick straight out sideways with fingers (any number) coming out of the sleeves.  The eyes, noses and mouths look the same on all the figures.  This is called “formula drawing”.

     These formulas change as children become more aware of things around them.  Because children’s art goes through developmental stages, it is important for adults not to be judgmental of children’s drawings.  It is also helpful when adults can expose the children to the things they are interested in drawing.  For example, parents could take the boy who is drawing airplanes to an airport or the girl who is drawing horses to a stable and let them see for themselves how these things look.  The adults should be careful to allow the children to just observe and enjoy the experience without trying to make a “learning opportunity” out of it.

     Although art development has no hard-and-fast gender rules, around ages 9-12 girls often begin to draw pictures of clothing and fashion models; hair in the pictures is carefully styled and facial features become more detailed.  While many girls like to draw clothes, flowers, animals and houses, boys often like to draw airplanes, comic book characters, ships, and guns. 

     This is the time young artists become discouraged with their artwork.  They want their pictures to look like the ones they see in comic books, animated movies and advertisements.  They may also draw pictures of what they want to be — a tough warrior, a beautiful princess, or a career (veterinarian, movie star, soldier). 

     Children’s art can also reflect what is most important to them at the moment.  In one case, a deaf child drew pictures of people with large ears, because their lack of function for him had drawn his attention to their importance in others.  A shy child may draw one lone person standing apart from a group; a thin, delicate boy might draw nothing but muscle men. 

     However, adults must be careful not to jump to conclusions about children’s drawings.  One boy used only blood-red paint during school art sessions.  When his concerned teacher asked why he always chose that color, he said “Because that’s the only color on the table that I can reach.” 

     The best thing adults can do for the younger child who enjoys art is to provide art materials and encourage the child, but not smother them with attention.  Praising the work is good; but overdoing praise is not.  Never tell the child that “art isn’t a career,” because there are many excellent opportunities for good artists.  If the child asks for help, provide it, but otherwise let him/her experiment and learn without too much “guidance” from adults. 

     If older children show talent and continued interest and enthusiasm for making art, parents can provide art books and better art materials, and consider special training if the child seems gifted.

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on December 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Bugle Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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