Every Child is an Artist
As a creative artist and an art teacher I’ve always been interested in that critical stage when children stop drawing. When does it happen? What transforms imaginative, creative kids into children who refuse to touch brush and paints? And how do they become adults who are convinced they have no artistic talent?
That creative shut-down happens because of their memories from art classes in elementary school. It’s a crucial stage in their childhood, when they realize they can’t portray reality as it is. And it’s the gap between what they wanted to draw as kids, and their drawing ability, that stops them from continuing to freely draw and paint, without inhibitions, self-criticism or judgment.
In every intuitive art workshop, the same sentence recurs: “I haven’t drawn since third or fourth grade” – and there’s a reason for it.
In art classes in school, children learn to relate to art rationally and consciously. Very little room remains for spontaneous creativity by giving children’s imagination to complete freedom. Art allows people to create from their unconscious, and using imagination is a tool and a vital value for emotional and associative release.
Many children aged nine and over, in the pre-realistic stage (apart from cases of delayed development), want more than describing the world schematically. They now try to capture the reality they perceive with their senses, using a realistic, naturalistic style. In other words, they’re discovering more about the surrounding world. They are more aware of themselves, and a scheme is no longer enough to express their emotions. At this stage, children try to describe the world as it appears, though without totally abandoning the familiar schematic design they once used.
In social terms, this is called “the age of gangs”. It’s a stage when children realize they belong to a peer group, that others are interested in the same fields of interest, share the same secrets, and enjoy doing the same things. They become aware that group efforts are more powerful and productive than individual endeavors: the groups that crystallize are usually single-sex.
It’s known as the pre-realistic stage because children are growing more aware of the “real world”. A special perception of reality is taking shape. Children test that new world of “reality”, and they draw out of their view of the world.
In technical terms…
The scheme that children used in the previous stage is no longer suitable for them. Now they try to describe things more “authentically”. With growing curiosity and stronger awareness to the world around them, they see details rather than a scheme.
Children make tremendous efforts to describe things more realistically, and they do so by going into greater detail. The scheme has become less rigid, and the children try to characterize the figures they draw. Though they do their best to describe things naturally, they still can’t capture three-dimensional objects. They pay more attention to perspective, and because of their awareness of nature and reality, they realize that geometrical lines are not enough to represent space. Children don’t abandon their individualism and uniqueness and try to emphasize differences between one object and another. They don’t draw any person or any house, but a specific person and house. Now we see differences between a male and a female figure, between the figure of an adult and of a child, and there are more external identifying features. Their attempts reflect the typical aspiration to perceive and capture reality. It’s an aspiration that expresses their curiosity and drives to know, which stems from the desire to describe their environment realistically.
Clearly, attempting to describe reality is the most prominent aspect of children at that age, and most of the technical and social changes derive from it. Using the imagination becomes more problematic because children are trying to escape from that place. Though creative growth has become more problematic, relating to the imagination can encourage children towards creative efforts, providing options for expression that requires abstract thinking.
And if children fail to go undergo that stage, this can be the critical period when they stop drawing, because they think they’re not good enough to draw reality as they’d like to. Children’s inability to bridge between the desire to draw, and their technical ability, immobilizes them in that lack of creative activity as they grow into adulthood.