Once initiated into the activity of drawing and painting, children find in it a great satisfaction. Art activities by themselves give a sense of elation, but the other element, i.e. communication, provides the child the satisfaction of conveying to others the messages that no other means can. The child's primary need is for communication and not making patterns or pictures. This does not imply that its artistic contents are a minor portion of the child's interests. The reality is that art activity is an integral part of the child's nature, and the urge to communicate provides an incentive to that activity. Although the child does not think in terms of making an artistic creation, due to his inherent sense of balance and rhythm, the painting that he makes does become an artistic creation. The more the child remains uninfluenced by adult standards, the more balance and rhythmic expression there will be in his work. Therefore, when artistic creativity becomes the medium of communication the child has to create more symbolism and suggestive language.
At that stage of childhood, as there is no logical element in thinking, and experiences are predominantly individualistic, the child does not relate to the outside world on an objective level. These experiences are constantly transformed into reflections of the child's imagery. The child, in order to express them, creates his own symbolism: Along with growing up, the logical element in the child's mind goes on becoming more and more abstract, and with that his symbolism gradually fades away.
Progress of Symbols
A study of the symbols created during the earlier stages of childhood shows that the eyes do not play as important a role as the child's imagination does. Almost as a rule, after the preliminary stages of scribbling, children start with the human figure. Whatever they draw satisfies them totally, because it is the correct image of the symbol created in their minds. Children do not judge the visual correctness of their drawings, mainly because their perceptions are different from those of adults, and also because they have not yet reached the stage in their development when they start looking at the world outside objectively.
Suppose they had the faculty of comparing the differences in their drawings and the reality outside, would they not have realized that they had failed to draw correctly? Would not such discouragement have resulted in their giving up the activity, naturally, because they didn't have the skills required to make correct drawings? My belief is that with children it is an inbuilt dynamic that protects them from getting discouraged by prematurely becoming aware of the visual realities of the outside world.
At first, say between the age of three and four, these symbols are simple, as simple as the child's thinking and observation; but gradually they become comparatively complex. This is due to the increase in the capacity for seeing, experiencingandthinking more minutely and in depth. Without looking at their own conceptual character, they start adding more details in their drawings. For example, the human face which, at the beginning, was only a circular form with two smaller circles inside it as eyes is to with another circle for the mouth and a vertical line for the nose. This process continues until the human figure has hair, ears, hands and legs etc. The important thing to note is that despite all these details these forms remain symbols or, say, a conglomeration of symbols.
Although we associate certain ages with these developments, which may be correct for the purpose of analysis, it will be wiser not to make it a rigid set of rules, specially because children often differ in the pace and character of growth and the types they belong to. My own experience has convinced me about the relevance of such an approach. A girl starting to make pictures will first fill up the space with colour. It is interesting to note that the child artist fills up a space with a colour which he feels to be the centre of attraction for him. For instance, if the shirt a person is wearing in the picture is blue, and that is the centre of interest for the artist, the shirt alone will be filled with that colour, other areas in the picture may remain only in outlines. Sometimes the artist may put some minor colour in a few other places too (illus. no. 31).
Another important observation to be made is the arrangement of forms (composition) in the picture. At the beginning when the symbols were simple the pictures were also simple and with only a few symbols—one or two. I shall discuss the point regarding children's sense of space later. Here I shall deal with only a few points related to the question of space in the drawings made by children.
It has been observed that the sense of composition in children's drawings is of a unique kind. In the early stages, they do not generally consider the whole space on the paper to be the painting area. It is likely that a child will draw a picture on a sheet of paper and when asked to do draw more, he or she might make it on the same sheet, even though the second picture may not have any relevance or relationship with the first one. There may be several pictures on the same sheet without any link between the various symbols or subject matter. During this stage of children's art work the sense of composition one looks for in a painting has not yet developed. In other words they have not yet evolved a notion of space, nor have they grasped the correlation between the symbols, ideas and subjects.
The concept that it is space, not a piece of paper, has yet to take shape in the child's mind. When children see adults writing on paper they notice that the writing process starts from the left-hand top corner, hence, some of them start drawing their pictures in the same manner—from left to right (illus.no. 37). This is another indication of the fact that it takes some time for children to start having a feeling for space. Another fact to take note of, is that art experiences themselves help the child to develop that sense. There is no doubt that art experiences are very important for children to conceptualize space as such.
Gradually the child discovers links between symbols and ties them up with ideas. Once the child begins drawing on this basis his pictures start taking different forms. Each symbol now has a relevance to the picture as a whole. They have some kind of association with each other (illus. no. 32). Now the background too gets colours.
If there is a figure in the pictures it will no longer be on a sheet of paper. It will be on the ground, which will have some colour associated with the kind of ground the figure is standing on—green grass, floor or some other specific surface. If asked to name an item from the picture, the child will often have a concrete reply. There is also some unity of ideas and manifestation of the inherent sense of space, which has not yet received a chance for expression (illus. nos. 7, 8, 32, 33, 35, 39).
Sense of Space
My everyday observation convinced me that children have a good sense of space related to the composition of the picture. Dozens of pictures made by our school children every week were obvious proofs of this observation. In other words, most of the pictures were with good composition and had a sound sense of space. But sometimes I thought that this may be true because of the unusual experience our children were having of drawing and painting activities. I had maintained files of their work done over some years. I went through them several times to study in detail the aspect of children's sense of space, composition and colour. Every time I did that I was reassured of my conviction. However, my own conviction was not enough to convince the educational experts, who did not give much thought to the new discovery that children are also artists.
After a good deal of thinking, I decided to find out whether this theory had any scientific basis. The first thing I decided was to conduct some experiments with children to do who had not yet gained much experience of drawing and painting. My second consideration was that these experiments should not be conducted with a selected group of children. It was important that we took all the children of a class and not only a few of them. At the same time, it was necessary to have the full cooperation of the class teachers concerned. We decided to work with a group of children of the nursery section of the school situated in the Sevagram village and the first two groups of children of the Ashram school. The average age of the first group was six, the second was seven and the third was eight years.