We took sheets of paper of the same size for every child and divided the area of each with two colours, making several triangular shapes, (illus nos. 54 & 55). The three groups, each with an average of fifteen children, were asked to paint pictures on these sheets. Despite the explanation made at the very beginning that they were to paint their picture on the pattern side of the sheet, twenty percent of the children asked if they could paint on the blank side of the paper.
There may be two reasons behind the question by these children. The first likely reason was probably the fact that "there was already a picture on one side and so why make another on it?" After all, these sheets had some nice patterns on them, "so why spoil them?" To me even this questioning by children indicated that they do have good aesthetic sense and a sense of pattern.
What I thought could be the second reason was a bit more sophisticated. The coloured shapes already drawn were in all likelihood considered a hindrance for the execution of their ideas and free-will in making their paintings in the way they liked. These patterns were like rocks and fallen trees lying on the road on which they were to walk. The conclusion I came to at this stage of the experiment was that children do have, though not consciously, a schematic design for the painting they plan to make. When they paint they do not put colours in a haphazard manner. They follow their pattern, which has its own proportions and composition. It is these dynamics that could have made them seek permission to draw their pictures on the blank side of the sheets. Let us see what they .did with the "patterned sheets of paper".
During the course of the experiment, we also maintained the normal atmosphere of our art classes. It was observed, in all the three groups, that all except two or three children used the colours and brushes without any inhibition. It seemed that all of them had an obvious question in their mind to be answered before putting any touch of colour on the paper. "Do I ignore the already existing pattern on the sheet supplied for the purpose and paint my picture as if it was blank, or use these patches for painting my picture?"
In the case of the first option, there was a special situation that had to be resolved in the course of painting the picture. It was probably not a big problem to ignore the already existing shapes and outlines, but ignoring the colours could be a problem. Can you or would you like to put red colour on the red patch! In other words, the artist could not ignore the "pattern", shapes and colours totally; some adjustments had to be made to be able to execute one's own design (illus. no. 54).
In the second situation the artist had to make the plan for his picture taking into consideration the angular shapes and colours at the same time. In fact the picture had to be conceived on a totally new basis. The angular shapes could either be used as they were, or changed or modified by the artist to execute his own design. The angular shapes being fairly well spread over the sheet, the artist could use each of them to make an independent picture, implying that the picture had to be in harmony with its form and colour, i.e. requiring from the artist a good sense of space (illus. no. 55).
Total number of pictures painted: 46
Pictures ignoring the background of angular shapes: 3
Pictures using the shapes: 35
Some of the children painted the angular shapes with a variety of symbols; some left a few of the shapes untouched. The majority of the pictures showed a good sense for space management. The three children who ignored the shapes showed some lack of colour sense. In reply to my query to the classteacher, I was told that those three children were somewhat slow intellectually and backward in other activities also.
One child used red colour on the red surface, but when he saw that it was not visible, he used the same colour but very thickly, making it look like embossed marks. Evidently, his red symbol could not have been of any colour other than red. And the background for it also had to be red.
Similar to the first experiment, I prepared a sheet of paper for each child. All the sheets were similar and had two lines drawn with pencil. While drawing these lines, although I had the sky, hills and a foreground in my mind, the children were told: "These lines were not meant to represent any particular object. You have to draw a tree—only one tree—wherever you feel like doing so on the side of the paper which had two lines drawn on them. Do not draw on the blank side of the paper. A tree-only one should be drawn with a pencil. You can draw the tree wherever and in whichever way you wish, horizontally or vertically. Your drawing should be completed in three minutes only. Examine the paper carefully before starting to work on it."
Results : Number of drawings made: 35
Most of the pictures were completed nearly within the prescribed period of time. In each of the three groups, there were two or three who were slow by temperament. Some of the children were late in completing their drawings, specially because they started enjoying drawing their tree in detail! The proportion of children who drew their trees considering the two lines to represent hills was forty-five per cent. The number of children who placed their tree in between the "two hills" in the same way as a trained artist would, was eleven.
This experiment was relatively simple, firstly because the division made on the paper by the two lines was well balanced, secondly, children were to draw only one tree. However, there was one basic point important for judging their sense of space. If the tree was drawn in a wrong place the balance created by the two lines would be lost. Once lost it could not have been corrected, mainly because there was no possibility of drawing anything else which could have mended the composition of the picture. Quite a few children felt this difficulty rather strongly. During the course of the drawing time, nearly ten of them tried to plead cleverly for permission to draw "something else" also. I noticed that they were not happy at the loss of the already existing balance in the picture. They did not feel satisfied with their drawings.
One child did not touch either of the drawn lines. He made a large tree in one of the three spaces created by the two lines. He did not take these lines to be representing anything in particular, e.g. hills or sky. There were three divisions on the paper and he must have had in mind three different items for the three spaces. But the restriction made him use only one division, perhaps leaving the other two spaces "incomplete". The point to notice here is that the tree he made in that space was undoubtedly very well placed - showing the artist's good sense of space, (illus. no. 53).
Yet Another Experiment
I conducted yet another experiment a little later. It was similar to the second one, but instead of the two lines drawn with pencil there were clear indications of two hills, sky and the foreground. Results of this experiment were also indicative of the good sense of space the children of that age had (illus. no. 52). Interestingly enough, in this experiment one child could not resist the temptation of painting another tree.
All the three experiments showed that children's sense of composition and space is by nature generally balanced.
The above experience and observation raised a question: What could be the reason for ten to fifteen per cent children being found to be poor in this respect? Although this is not the subject for our present discussion, to understand child art a little better it might help if we went into it briefly. It would be psychologically unsound to conclude that these children were born with that deficiency. True, there are cases in which for reasons of health or mishaps during conception or birth, some of these qualities do get lost or stunted. The occurrence, though, of such cases among children is generally much lower than ten per cent.
The more important reason for such deficiencies in a child lies in social and family factors and, to some extent, the child's own circumstances. The simplest factor known to everyone is malnutrition, which affects not only physical growth but also mental development. There are many other reasons behind these kinds of deficiencies. It is not our purpose to go into the details of this phenomenon.
The other side of the picture is the effect of affluence, which, in addition to other effects, takes the child away from nature. Except in a few cases, it shifts the growth of the child from his or her natural course to an artificial and materialistic way of life. It would be a truism to say that the psychology and approach to life of parents and/or guardians has a long lasting impact on children, particularly as manifested during the earlier stages of their lives.
From the observations made and conclusions drawn from the experiments described above it should be obvious that improvement in the way of life and education, including that of the parents, should facilitate the growth of the natural qualities of children. I must-make what I think is, an important point at this juncture. My work was with children who were receiving their education through meaningful work and creativity. They were not the children of government primary schools, nor were they from schools specially created for the rich. There is a tremendous difference between them and those being educated according to the principles worked out by educators like Tagore and Gandhi, such as: Only that education can be complete, which nurtures the mind and the body in an integrated manner, and which is based on meaningful work and creativity. The children who were part of the three experiments were very young and mostly from a rural millieu, facts which, by the way, went in favour of the approach adopted by us in this work. Most of these children, on an average, already had one or two years of experience at the Sevagram school. In other words they had not been spoilt by the prevalent book-centred education.
Book-centred education aims mostly at developing memory and, at the most, intellect. It does not give even a minimum of consideration to the growth of other faculties, e.g. practical skills, creativity and social awareness. That kind of education does not encourage the formation of those images in the child's mind, which inspire and stimulate the potential of imaginative living. Our present discussion being directed to art education, we are considering only the aspects mainly related to drawing, painting and closely related subjects. Nonetheless, the perspective presented here is equally important for other arts based on visual experiences. I have already stated that the basis of our perspective is the approach to art in which there is no hierarchic division among "the sixty-four arts". Such a division—fine arts and applied arts—is artificial and socially harmful.
Whatever children do to make useful things is art work. It essentially stimulates their creativity and imagination. If the major inspiration behind the work children do becomes commercially motivated instead of being creative, they will not have the experiences required for a holistic personality development.
The question that comes to mind is: What would have been the results of such an experiment if they had been conducted on children of the ordinary primary schools? It so happened that I was never motivated to conduct any such experiment. Having experienced the atmosphere of municipal schools in India, I do think that, if conducted, such experiments could have given different results. In those schools, children learn to use paper and pencil in an entirely different manner. They are not encouraged to use their imagination and judgment. In any case, I can only say hypothetically, that whatever would be the results of such an experiment, they would undoubtedly give a strong indication towards the need to change the present educational system.
Another question is: What about those children who have never had the chance to attend a school? Again, as I have had no chance to experiment such children it will be erroneous for me to come to any conclusion. But I do have a fair amount of experience with children, who have never gone to any school or who have become dropouts. Such children often develop a kind of activity-oriented life and a life that is spent most of the time under the open sky and in hardship. In other words, these children, by the sheer necessity of circumstances, have to be more free of inhibitions and of the negative impact of the bookish education given in schools. They may not be learning arithmetic tables or lessons in grammar, but their experiences of the kind of life they lead give them a sense of reality, freedom and direct contact with nature and social conditions. They learn to look at life directly and not through a screen of bookish knowledge. Unfortunately, they are also forced by their circumstances, created by social and economic conditions, to learn many anti-social habits and attitudes.
While writing the above, I am thinking of those children, who have not yet had any contact with an urban atmosphere and its artificialities and those of the rural areas and/or city slums, who, either on account of the work they have to do for their families or some other reason to roam around aimlessly for some reason or other in cities, and have to do some kind of work for at least a meal a day. Their power of imagination becomes sharper than that of the children sitting at a desk cramming their lessons with little relevance to their present or future lives.
After a slight but necessary drift away from our main subject psychogenesis of child art, let us now go back to it.