Art: the basis of

Stages of Children's Art Expression

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Stages of Children's Art Expression

Generally speaking, children pass through the following stages in their art expression:

Two to four years

Scribbling and getting familiar with tools and material.

Use of hands and muscular movements.

Four to six years

Stage of symbols and naming the drawings.

Seven to eight years

Getting away from infantile stage. Beginning of visual realism.

Nine to eleven years

Stage of disillusionment and discouragement.

Eleven to fourteen years

Early adolescence and confusion.

Fourteen years and after

Possibility of the stage of artistic revival.
Most children go through the above stages of development. It is difficult to assign specific age groups for these stages. We shall discuss this aspect when we go into each stage in some detail. The time of transition from one stage to the other depends on each child's nature and pace of growth. It is also difficult to say how long a child continues to remain in each of these stages. It was noticed that some children passed through the first stage in a matter of weeks, but others took months. It has to be remembered that in general, these stages are not static, as children go on moving from one experience to another, thus grow continuously. These stages are not clear cut periods in themselves, they overlap with each other. Sometimes, you may be surprised to see a child move on to the next stage all of a sudden!
I also learnt that the evolution of children's drawings is of the same nature and almost identical all over the world, and that children do not draw what they see but what they know. These observations clearly point to the fact that art activities can become creative and pleasant for children.3

Scribbling Stage

As soon as a child is able to hold a pencil it starts scratching it on any available surface. If it is paper or a surface on which the pencil marks can be made, children like scribbling on it. The scribblings do not represent anything in particular. It is the child's effort to make acquaintance with the material and at the same time to make bodily movements. Children also like to feel that they are doing what their parents or other adults do. Sometimes, when asked what he has drawn the child will think and call it something on the spur of the moment. Generally the human figure is the favourite, (illus. nos. 20 to 23)

Stage of Symbols

This stage comes when the child has had enough of scribbling without having anything in mind about what the scribbles represent. He has already started giving names to his drawings. Now he begins to associate his drawings with objects from the world outside his own self, objects which he is familiar with. They have no likeness with the object but the child says it does. He creates symbols in his mind. These symbols have no long term relevance, for the same drawing can become different things at different times. In due course, these symbols acquire some kind of permanency. For instance, a circular shape with two smaller circles in the top half and one in the bottom half is a human face. The same round shape can be papa, mama or any one else, depending on the occasion. The artist is totally subjective in his experiences as well as expressions, (illus. nos. 1, 7, 8, 11, 14, 19, 24 to33, 35, 39, 40, 43)

Stage of Visual Realism

Gradually these symbols change. The change is caused by new experiences. Children go on noticing new aspects of the same thing, which influences the form and even style of the symbol. For instance, at first a human face was a large circle with two smaller circles, representing the two eyes. Then the mouth comes into the picture and then perhaps the nose. The mouth and the nose may be only two tiny lines—one horizontal and the other vertical. In due course the ears, hair, neck etc. are also seen. With the development of objectivity in their visual observation, these symbols start looking somewhat "realistic". The more children start seeing in that manner the more they begin to compare the drawings with the objects themselves. The kind of change in their faculty of looking at the outer world brings a "realistic" approach into their drawings.
There is probably another reason behind this change. Until now the child was an introvert. Everything that he saw or experienced was interpreted with subjectivity. Now he has started to experience objectivity. His world now is becoming more intricate and he is able to establish some relationship with the world around. In other words, he gets out of himself. His pictures show the signs of realism, (illus. nos. 5, 9, 13, 47 to 51 and cover illus.)
An individual's qualities and capacities are not sufficient requirements for deciding the way his or her growth should take place. Social and environmental factors play a crucial role in dictating the ways and goals of human growth.

Stage of Disillusionment

Children try to do everything in the way their elders do. It is not that they feel they are also adults, but that they want to be as good as their elders in work. In the case of art activities they remain themselves as long as they have not started looking at the world more objectively. Awareness of the outside world makes an impact on their motivation and the ways of self-expression.
At this stage, most children do not feel the same encouragement as they did during their earlier stage of art expression. Now they expect themselves to be able to draw like adults. It should be pointed out that this kind of comparison could not have taken place in the older pattern of life in India, or for that matter in many parts of the world. For instance, the gap between the art of folk traditions and that of the children could not have been so wide as to create a spirit of comparison in the minds of children. But the popular standards of taste and design, today, are such that if children follow them as their model, the direction of their growth would entirely change and their development become distorted.
In the absence of an atmosphere sympathetic to their nature and correct growth requirements, the journey in the direction of their goal, i.e. the imitation of popular taste, examples of which they see all around them, makes children feel frustrated and gives them a sense of defeatism. This is what I call the stage of discouragement and disillusionment. This is the stage, when the child wants to do something that will be accepted by the adults. In other words, he does it for others and not for himself; just the opposite of what he was doing until now.
It would be worth studying how an individual's growth in art expression takes place in a society in which indigenous art traditions are alive and active and occupy a place of honour. Let us look at the tribal society (as it is called by the urban people). It has its own standards of taste and their art is far from being realistic. There is not even an effort to make their drawings with a likeness to optical reality. That is the main reason why the drawings of their children made during their adolescence are not very different from the adults' paintings. This was true in almost all the tribal and rural societies. In some societies it is true even today.
The conclusion that I draw is that it is wrong on the part of contemporary society to force or even expect realism in the paintings of children. It leads to an unnatural development, in fact mis-development, of the child's personality, and eventually of his creative potential. If realism had been a matter of natural growth, why then does it not happen in tribal society? Children's drawings there too should have first taken the turn to realism and only after that phase would they have been influenced by the drawings made by adults, which have always been predominantly symbolic. On the contrary, children's drawings in tribal communities do not have to pass through such a temporary and forced phase. There, children's symbolism may be of a category different from that of the adults, but there is neither a break in the development of their art expression nor frustration created in them because they are unable to draw like the adults, specially when they are entering a stage which leads into adulthood.
Genuine child art is created only when the child does it for his or her own inspiration and satisfaction and not anybody else's. It is only then that the child's aesthetic creativity finds true expression and develops at a natural pace.

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