Saturday, November 6, 2010

Appreciating Children's Art

Children’s art becomes fascinating if you know what you are looking at.  Children see the world from a fresher, altogether different perspective than adults and come up with ideas that would never cross the adult mind.  Picasso once said that every child is an artist and that the problem was how to remain one when we grow up. However, to the uninformed eye, children’s art can easily be written off as nothing special.

Having some knowledge of the basic stages of drawing development really helps in appreciating the art that children make.  Here is a link to a site with a chart put together by Betty Edwards and Victor Lowenfeld that describes the various stages in children's drawings:

If you have a little more time, “Young in Art” by Craig Roland is an excellent read.  It goes into more detail and is available for download at:

One of my favorite techniques that children start to use at around 5 or 6 years of age is the “X-ray method” (described in “Young in Art”) where the imaginary walls of a three-dimensional object are removed by the child to see directly into a house, the ground, etc.  Here is an example that my son did last Easter when he was six.  We had been to a Catholic church, Herz Jesu,  near our home a couple of days before and showed him the Stations of the Cross.  A few days later, he drew this cut-away with chalk pastels of Jesus in the tomb. When I asked about the colors, he told me that the yellow was God’s power raising Jesus from the dead. And he drew the skull and crossbones below Jesus because he had seen them underneath the cross in the woodcarvings at the church.

That leads me to another thought: children are usually happy to talk about their art, but can be put off or intimidated by the question, “What is that?”  This question can put unhealthy pressure on the child that their work has to be recognizable when that may be beyond their physical capabilities.  In Experience and Art: Teaching Children to Paint, Nancy R. Smith writes that making observations about the child’s work and asking broader questions is helpful.  Smith suggests starting with the question, “Do you want to tell me about your picture?” So for example, one could say to a child, “You’ve made some wiggly lines there. Did you choose a light or dark color for them?” or “What is the biggest shape you drew?”  I have personally found that children I work with open up and talk more about their work when asked these sorts of questions.  These types of questions also aid children in learning the vocabulary necessary to describe their work.  (And as I mentioned in a previous post, one of our greatest responsibilities as parents, teachers and pastors is to help children develop the language skills necessary to flourish in this world.)

So I hope that I've inspired you dive into the world of children's art or look at their art with new eyes!  It is truly amazing to get a glimpse of how little ones see the world.

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