Children, not being influenced by the forces that dictate an adult’s daily life, exhibit art in an intrinsically innocent fashion. As Pablo Picasso once said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” This paper will focus on an observational study that was conducted on a child whist they were creating their own artwork without the influence of an adult. The artwork conducted by the child was completely spontaneous. A variety of materials was offered to the child, and they were free to create any idea they had.
The purpose of this study was to observe a child’s uncorrupted art, to see how they perceive the world and their view on art. According to Jaquinth (2011) the root of all creativity stems from intrinsic motivation, as opposed to extrinsic motivation which can delay creativity. Thus, to avoid the delay of creativity, no ideas or suggestions were given to the child. The goal of this study was to see the inherent motivation of the child. The study was divided into four components: the first three were art activities that involved the child creating their own artwork. The study began with a drawing activity, then a painting activity, and ended with a sculpting activity. The fourth component of the study involved a child’s criticism of an adult’s artwork.
For the purpose of this study, the last name of the child participant will remain anonymous. The child who participated in this study was 5 year old Ella. Ella is a young girl who enjoys art, and loves to participate in any artistic activity. She just started grade one, and really enjoys school. She is intelligent and very social compared to other kids her age. She makes friends easily, and according to her parents she has no problem fitting in. She likes Disney princesses, drawing, and enjoys playing a game called “Leap Frog” on a special electronic pad. Ella comes from an Italian background, as both her parents are children of Italian immigrants who settled in Canada less than 100 years ago. She is an only child, and therefore gets a lot of attention from her parents. Since she has no siblings, one could assume that perhaps that was the catalyst for her being so popular among her peers, as she was more motivated to socialize. Ella’s parents agreed to allow her participate in the study. Although she is my cousin, we rarely see each other so it remains safe to conclude that our relationship did not corrupt the results of this study. As a matter of fact, this study permitted me to bond with her more, and allowed us to get to know each other. I could see a great deal of my younger self in her, when it comes to art.
The drawing activity was relatively simple. The duration of this activity was approximately 45 minutes. The child in question was offered a variety of drawing materials which included crayons and pastels. Different kinds of drawing papers were offered to her. She preferred simple white printer paper as opposed to the colorful pastel papers that were offered to her. Clearly pastels were not an interest of hers, as she immediately favoured using the crayons. She was told that she could draw whatever she wished. At first she hesitated because she thought I wanted her to draw something specific. It did not take too long for her to begin her drawing. The first drawing was that of a person, because she wanted to show me how she draws people. When looking at Figure A, we see that the drawing was relatively simple. This drawing was done on an ordinary sheet of light pink printer paper, using a violet crayon. The colour of the crayon seems to match well with the colour of the paper. The drawing was very modest; as it is basically an outline of what is obviously a person. Lowenfeld observed that a child will not always draw what they know, but will draw what is meaningful at the time they are expressing their ideas through drawing: thus omitting body parts which are emotionally insignificant to them but are aware of the presence of the body (Saunders, 1960, p.13-14). Although clearly a person, the details were left out, as the drawing had no face, hands or feet. Ella told me that the reason for this was that she did not know how to “draw hands the right way”. In fact, she asked me several times if I could show her how to draw hands. Of course, not wishing to mess with the results of this study I waited till I finished all the activities before I showed her how I draw hands. I made it clear to tell her that there is no specific way to draw a hand, and just to draw how them as she sees them. Eisner (2002) discusses the lessons that art teaches youngsters. She states that the “arts” in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young an adult perspective as to what adults believe is important. This is clearly seen in the example just mentioned. Ella believed that there was a “correct” way to draw hands, and she was hesitant to draw them herself in fear that she would draw them the wrong way. She wanted to do it the adult way, because she valued the adult belief which she believed was the only right way.
As part of the drawing activity, Ella also drew another image. The drawing showed a person next to a house on a cloudy day. When I asked her who it was, she replied that it was herself. It was obvious that it was a self-portrait that she drew. Figure B shows a photograph I took of her while she was drawing. Ella has light brown hair, and when this activity was conducted she was wearing a pink shirt just like the person she drew. The house she drew was our grandmother’s house, where the study was conducted. While drawing she comments occasionally about the materials and the process of her drawing. She mentions it is difficult to draw faces, because it has a lot of details. Figure C shows the finished drawing which shows Ella outside on a cloudy day standing next to the house.
According to Viktor Lowenfeld (1947), author of “Creativity and Mental Growth,” there are four stage of artistic Development: scribbles, preschematic, schematic, and drawing realism. According to him, Ella would fit in in the preschematic stage, which is common of children aged four to seven years old. Characteristics of this stage are the development of a set of symbols to represent a concept, which may resemble but are not necessarily in proportion. This can be seen in Ella’s drawing with her usage of symbols, for instance she drew a house using the classic symbol for a house.
Howard Gardner is famous in the world of psychology for his theory of the seven intellectual capabilities “Multiple Intelligence” otherwise known as MI theory. He evaluates the art of children based on their cognitive growth. According to Gardner, Ella being five years old would fall in the category where children use notational relationships in their art making. This means that Ella either invents or learns meaningful symbols of the culture. Her drawings would also start to get more detailed. This is seen with her usage of symbols, such as the house. Details started to appear in her drawing as she attempted to draw facial features.
Figure A. “Drawing of a person.”
Figure B. “Ella drawing.”
Figure C. “Ella’s Finished Drawing.”
When the four parts of the study was over, for amusement Ella and I proceeded to a collaborative drawing. Ella had this drawing sheet where she would trace shapes like a fish, a spiral or a flower. Then I drew a skeleton, and observed as she copied and tried to draw the skeleton exactly how I drew it. I was surprised by the resemblance. I also noted another interesting aspect, which was how Ella kept insisting that I write my name next to my drawing.. She wrote her name next to her part of the drawing, which was clearly a habit of hers, which can be seen on Figure D.
Figure D. “A Collaborative Drawing.”
The second art activity involved using watercolor paints. Ella was provided several water color paints of all colors, and multiple paintbrushes of various sizes. She was given one large watercolor paper. Like the drawing activity she was told that she could paint whatever she liked. Again, she was hesitant at first but it did not take long before she was painting her ideas. She used a lot of lively colors in her painting. This activity took approximately 35 minutes to complete. The participant had already used paint in her past artworks, so it was not necessary to explain how to use the materials. Ella remarks how the paint is very messy, and how “It always goes on top of each other.” She compares the paint to her previous drawing activity. She comments about how her friends paint, saying “they put stuff all over the paper, they mix up all the colors and destroy all the paper, they scribble a lot.” I found it interesting how she used the word “scribble”, because according to Lowenfeld (1947) the first stage of artistic development involves a lot of scribbling. Ella being five years old is in the process of moving from the scribble phase to the preschematic phase, and is clearly more advanced than her peers due practicing drawing often. She started off by painting a small rainbow, and thought she was finished but there was still plenty of room on the paper so I encouraged her to add more to it. Figure E shows the completed painting which includes two rainbows, and two flowers, and a colorful boarder surrounding the entire painting. She knew how to handle the colors, and I was even more surprised by the accuracy of first rainbow she drew which had all the colors of a real rainbow in the correct order. Her painting is considered very girly and typical of girls her age, as she drew flowers and rainbows.
Figure E. “Ella’s Painting.”
For the third art activity which lasted about 20 minutes, the clay sculpture the participant was required to create was a three dimensional artwork out of clay dough or terracotta clay. She preferred drawing and painting as opposed to working with clay because she said “I never work with sticky stuff….I do not like sticky stuff!” Ella originally preferred the clay dough, but unfortunately the clay dough provided for this study was of poor quality because it was easily falling apart. The only colors offered were orange, yellow, blue and green. So Ella had to try some of the Terracotta clay, which she states is “too hard”. Eventually she decided to combine both materials for her sculpture. Throughout the entire activity Ella would shout “Yuck” every once in a while, because she did not enjoy working with sticky material. She states that “it is sticky and gets your hands all dirty!” The sculpture was similar to her drawing, because it was also a person. It was clearly a girl with blond hair and blue eyes, again similar to Ella’s own appearance, as she also has blue eyes. Figure F shows Ella while working with the clay, and the process of it. While clearly a human figure which included the basic details of the face, the arms were missing however. Ella later decided to include some arms and hands to her sculpture which can be observed on Figure G. In general, she did not enjoy this activity at all.
Figure F. “Ella’s Clay work.”
Figure G. “The Completed Clay Sculpture.”
The fourth activity involved showing the participant an art image and listening to her response. Two images were chosen, each belonging to a different culture. The images feathered typical adult artwork. The first image that was shown was title “Sennedjem and Iineferti in the Fields of Iaru.”. This image showed an illustration of spell number 110 from the Book of the Dead, which can be seen on Figure H. Sennedjem was an ancient egyptian artisan who lived near the Nile. He is shown harvesting grain and performing other argicultural activities while entering the next world. When asked what she sees in the image, Ella first response was “It looks like the Nile”. I found it impressive that a five year old child knows about the Nile. She then says “it is pretty weird how there is a Nile and then that weird type of animal”. By animal she was referring to the Egyptian gods. She asks why the people are following each other. She states that this artwork is very confusing to kids. When pointing at the hieroglyphs, she says she cannot understand them. I then asked her what the people are doing. She says “it looks like they are on a boat or something”, or “they are sitting down on the water”. I ask her what the other people on the image are doing? She then proceeded to reply “it looks like they are cutting and pulling off grass.” When later asked about what she sees in the last section of the image she replies “there are trees, and many different kinds of weird things”. By this she was talking about the different kinds of vegetation, which to her did not look like plants. She asked how the image was made in real life? I replied that the Egyptians painted this type of art on walls. I told her that the egyptians would often paint images on the tombs of the dead, like the Pyramids of Egypt. I asked her to look at the image one last time and tell me what the story is about overall, and she sarcastically replied “it is a story of trying to figure out people.” When asked how the image makes her feel she replies “pretty weird, and I am confused.” This kind of artowork can be used to guide a response activity with a group of children. Like with Ella, I could ask children to discuss what they think is going on in the image, and tell their peers about the story they see. I could then motivate children to draw out their own story, and have them design it in a similar way as the egyptians to then have their peers guess what is going on in the story. This would be an ideal way to teach students about the style of th egyptian storytelling and allow them to pratice their storytelling skills.
Figure H. “Sennedjem and Iineferti in the Fields of Iaru”, photographed by Charles Wikinson.
The other image, shows a photograph of a wooden sculpture from a First Nations artist called Edward Kiokan, which can be observed on Figure I. It has all the characteristic of indigenous art. The work is called “Loon Mask” because it shows multiple animals which includes a loon. When closely observing the image one can perceive a loon as the head of a creature with the overall shape of a turtle. There are many animals combined to form the complete creature. When looking at the image one could also see a few fishes and a bear. I was curious as to whether a five year old child would be able to see all the animals, and how all the animals when combined formed another animal? When viewing the image, Ella has initially no idea what is going on in the art. She states that “it looks like a moose”. Later she notices the fishes and a goose. She later says that the rest of the image “looks like a fishes tail”. I asked her what she sees when she looks at the overall image. She notices the sticks, and mentions that it could be made of wood. She says “there are a lot of weird things”, mostly because there are a lot of animals. When asked what kind of culture this artwork may come from? She answered that she had no idea. What I found interesting was that Ella noticed the head of the loon, which she called a goose. However, I intially did not see it at all. But she was unable to see that the different animals formed the different components of a whole turtle.
This type of First Nations artwork can be used to motivate a group of children, perphaps a little older than Ella, in the creation of artworks that involves stories and sculpture. In the case of the “Loon Mask”, I could teach children about what the loon symbolizes for indegenous cultures. For example, according to the Canadian First Nations peoples, the loon is famous for symbolizing wealth, tranqulity, serenity and generosity. To guide a response activity I would tell the story of the animal to the children, as told by First Nations people and ask the children what they think the animal symbolizes. To motivate children, I could get them to pickout their favourite animal and research what that animal represents to a First Natiosn culture. Then I would guide the children as they construct their own animal using materials provided in class.
Figure I. “Loon Mask” by Edward Kiokan.
Although Ella found both images weird, she did prefer the Egyptian artwork more than the First Nations artwork. But for both images she used the word “weird” several times. She especially found that the First Nations image was very weird because there are ramdom parts of animals all over the place. She was not able to see that the entire image was formed using different kinds of animals to form a whole animal, which was a turtle. Perhaps the choice of images used for this study were too advanced for her age group, but it was interesting to see what a five year old child sees when viewing the images. However, although confusing for the most part, Ella still enjoyed the activity and eagerly participated.
Conducting this study proved to be challenging. I had experienced some difficulty finding time to meet with my child participant since both her parents work full-time. However, observing the art activities proved to be a lot of fun. I was surprised to how much Ella reminded me of my younger self, in terms of her artistic abilities. As mentioned previously I was shocked by how accurate her rainbow was and how she noticed things in the First Nations artwork that I had not noticed myself. The participant despised the clay activity because it was difficult to work with but enjoyed all other activities which she keenly participated in. Overall we both enjoyed the study as it allowed us to learn and bond.
This study could have some implications for a classroom lesson planning. For instance when teaching children about the artworks of different cultures, it would be ideal to give them a lesson about the culture prior the art lesson. One idea of a possible lesson, as mentioned before is that of the symbolism of animals in First Nations Cultures. As part of the unit plan, I could divide the lesson into three separate components. The first one would be to bring the students to a museum to look at some real indigenous artwork, were the student will then pick their favourite piece and gather some basic information on the work such as the title and author. The next component would be to have students do some research on an animal of their choice that was inspired by a real piece of art, and what that animal it symbolizes to the First Nations community. Students could also write a paper on what the animal symbolizes to them and why. They could take notes on the main traits of the animal. The final component would involve students constructing their own work of art feathering their chosen animal. Some adaptions that would make this lesson age appropriate for a large group of children in a classroom, is to have the children create their animals out of clay since wood is too difficult of a material for children to handle. To keep it simple, children would be provided with 3 colors, which are typical of First Nations artwork, and they include: black, white and red. The appeal for children is that they get to create a story using their favourite animals. Children also get to learn about another culture. If any children in the classroom come from an indigenous background, they will appreciate that their peers learn more about their culture. Children will also enjoy painting their creations. Overall they will learn about another culture, about their animals, and a bit about mythology and symbolism.
This lesson grows from the progressive approach to education in which learning would be based on a child’s environmental interaction. This approach to art states that the main role of the teacher is to be a guide, who functions as a facilitator in the child’s learning. It also believes that the child’s interaction with the environment is essential to their learning, and this contributes to experimental learning. The purpose of this theory of art education is similar to that of this observational study. Both which to foster the following qualities in a child’s artwork: spontaneity, freshness, lyricism, honestly and above all, a freedom from adult restraints.
This kind of lesson also demonstrates key components of the constructivist learning theory, which was first introduced by the famous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. The main believe of this theory is that children tend to build their own knowledge through play and experiencing the world. Therefore, according to this theory a child learns by actively participating in the problem-solving and critical thinking of the activity they are engaged in (Jonassen, 2013). This fits well with the lesson mentioned above, because it allows students to keenly research and design the animal they are interested in, thus allowing them to actively seek out new information. The art lesson itself would be provided with further detail, and is enclosed along with this paper.
In conclusion, the process of art making should involve the student in actively seeking out new information and engaging in their artwork without having the impositions of dealing with adult restraints.
Saunders, R.J (1960). The Contributions of Viktor Lowenfeld to Art Education; Part I: Early Influences on His Thought Studies in Art Education Vol. 2, No. 1 pp. 6-15 National Art ……...Education Association
Viktor Lowenfeld (1947). Creativity and Mental Growth. New York: The MacMillan Company ……..Vol. 4 (1), pp. 73-79.