Art: the basis of

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Stage of Realism

Drawings made by children during the earlier stage were not the results of visual experiences. It would be appropriate to call them logical or schematic. If told that the picture does not look like the object that is supposed to have been represented, the child will try to explain and argue and actually insist that it is the picture of that particular object or person. Once a child of about six years was drawing a picture. He drew two horizontal parallel lines. That was his "road". Then he drew trees on both sides. Some people were walking on the road. They were drawn in the direction of the road. By sheer chance that day his fifteen-year old cousin, who had come to visit the family on his vacation, had accompanied him to the school and was sitting near him. All of a sudden he asked his cousin: "What is this picture?" "Men walking on the road, " said the artist cousin. The human figure were drawn in such a way that an "uneducated" person would think they were lying on the road (illus. no. 3).
The visitor cousin tried to explain: "Are not the men lying on the road, rather than walking on it? Look, you should have drawn it like this," and he drew a line at right angles to the road. After all, when people walk on the road their position is always perpendicular to the surface of the road. What the boy said was due to his lack of art experience. But the artist cousin knew fully well in his mind that the men were walking in the direction of the road, and so he drew the picture accordingly. This conversation between the two cousins happened spontaneously. Generally, children at that stage do not consciously think in such logical terms. It comes from their inner self and from the intellectual part of their mind. That is the reason why we call it "schematic".
While children's pictures made during the stage of symbolism are schematic, those made at the beginning of the stage of realism start being influenced by their visual experiences. To begin with, there is no sense of the third dimension. Distance is shown by drawing objects one on top of the other (illus. no. 47). If there is a tree (even a large one) in the foreground, the sky will be drawn on the space left at the top of the tree or in a top corner and not behind the tree: The concept, objects in front of you are at a distance from each other in depth, has not yet entered into his observation process.
The front wall of a house becomes "transparent" or as if it does not exist. The interior of the house becomes visible from outside. The child has not yet started realizing the presence of the wall, seeing the wall, because the emphasis is only on the interior (illus. no. 39).
Further visual experiences motivate the child to develop the notion of the third dimension. First, the difference in size of the individual items and then their thickness and depth are noticed, ultimately developing into an understanding of the third dimension, perspective. The house which was once complete with only the front wall (illus. no. 19 & 40) is now seen with its side walls (illus. no. 50). The artist is now beginning to grasp the principle behind the fact that visually the size of the same figure or item becomes smaller when seen from a greater distance.
This stage, generally speaking, goes on until the age of twelve or thirteen. It has a special significance in the mental development of the child. Instead of the predominance of imaginative thinking, the child's thinking process enters into the realm of analytical thinking. New visual experiences make the child observe with greater detail what he wants to express in his pictures. His vision becomes basically visual. This is the last stage of child art. It would be reasonable to say that work done by children during the end of this stage cannot strictly be called child art.
Some specialists consider this (last) phase of the stage of realism, the age of repression. If a child's art activity continues during the age of repression, it will change from child art to adult art. This is the stage in the child's life when certain kinds of energies repress some other kinds of energies. The energies that originally gave the child a special kind of imagery, which enabled him to express his thoughts and feelings through symbols, and the eye to experience the world in his own way, are now repressed by the newly acquired energies which provide him with the skills to look at the outside world of forms objectively, with an analytical vision.
During the earlier years, an important purpose of the child's art activities was communication. It was communicating through images. The child's pictures spoke much more (and more effectively) than his verbal expression. At that time the character and contents of what he wanted to express were different too. Now his verbal skills are so developed that he can communicate through words more effectively than he can with the language of forms, which is being gradually weakened. The ideas and experiences he now wants to communicate are of a different category.
The growth of intellectual capacity is also responsible for the repression. At one time, the joy the child unconsciously experienced in his creative activities, in hearing fairy tales, has disappeared. His intellect tells him that those are unrealistic stories and almost entirely irrelevant in practical life. When he starts comparing his drawings with outside reality he feels disheartened and discouraged. He is no longer a child.
There are some children (it will be more appropriate now to call them adolescents) who like to continue with art activities and enjoy them. Their work generally takes the direction of realism, and they like to make their pictures resemble the object as closely possible, (illus. no. 51). However, the number of such children is small and they belong to a special psychological type. If their art activities can continue and if they receive the kind of encouragement their type needs, the age of repression will not become a hindrance in their development. It is likely that eventually some of these children will become successful artists.
If art activities continue to remain a part of the school syllabus at that stage too, it is likely that during the stage of realism there would be some children who find themselves unable to continue creating pictures. They would either like to copy or might get interested in making geometrical patterns etc. It only means that they are feeling the effect of the repression.
Before ending this chapter, let me make a brief conclusion. During the earlier years of life, whatever the child sees, hears or experiences is all self-centred. Whatever happens around him, the child thinks it is for his benefit exclusively. Therefore, whatever he does for himself, he is satisfied with it. His values and standards of judgment are entirely his own. But reaching the age of twelve years or so, when he is just entering the world of adults, his own standards do not work any more. The child now realizes that to be able to live in the world of adults he also has to become an adult. He hesitates to do what he did with great joy and satisfaction during his earlier years.
The child starts becoming an extrovert. As his earlier art expression was entirely different from that of the adults, now he tries to imitate their values and standards. But he fails, because the time has not yet arrived and conditions are not yet ripe for the new phase to begin. Unfortunately the style and taste of the society is so distorted and commercialized that the child's earlier art experiences are totally destroyed. The present-day educational system, almost all over the world, gives importance to the inner needs of the individual as a human being with the potential for aesthetic creation.


The youth's first affections are the

reins by which all his

movements can be directed

once he is free.1

While discussing the stage of 'introduction to realism', we said that it is the last stage of child art. If it is so then why do we call the stage of early adolescence the fourth stage of children's art expression? Why a separate chapter on it?

The stage of adolescence is also sometimes called the stage of crisis. A majority of art teachers believe that the artistic creativity of children ends forever at adolescence. They think that on account of the awakening of intellectual faculties or for whatever reason it may be, the end of artistic creativity at this stage is inevitable.
My conviction based on personal experience is, however, different. I do not want to put it in the form of some kind of principle, but I do want to make some arguments, based on observations of a large number of children, which would make the picture considerably optimistic. I am convinced that it need not be a stage of "crises". It becomes, almost invariably so, on account of the social-educational climate that has been prevalent for a very long time. There need not be an end to children's artistic creativity at this stage the reasons for adolescence becoming a problematic stage also lie with us, the educators and parents. It is unwise to blame Nature for something we ourselves are responsible for. The main culprit in this case is the educational system that has been built over decades or perhaps centuries.
Jean Jaques Rousseau describes adolescence as follows: "We are born twice over; the first time for existence, the second for life; once as human beings and later as men and women. Upto puberty, children of the two sexes have nothing obvious to distinguish them. They are similar in features, in figure, in complexion, in voice. Girls are children, boys are children. The same name suffices for being so much alike.
"But man is not meant to remain a child for ever. At the time prescribed by nature he passes out of his childhood. As the fretting of the sea precedes the distant storm, this disturbing change is announced by the murmur of nascent passion. A change of mood, frequent tantrums, a constant unease of mind make the child hard to manage. He no longer listens to his master's voice. He is a lion in fever. He mistrusts his guide and is averse to control.
"With the moral signs of changing mood go patent physical changes. His countenance develops and takes on the imprint of a definite character. The soft slight down on his cheeks grows darker and firmer. His voice breaks, or rather, gets lost. He is neither child nor man, and he speaks like neither. His eyes, organs of the soul, which have hitherto said nothing, find language and expression as they light up with a new fire. He is becoming conscious that they can tell too much and he is learning to lower them and blush. He is disturbed for no reason whatever.2

Rousseau considers it as the most important stage in an individual's life. I prefer to call it the "dawn of the life of adulthood". Rousseau says that adolescence is not the stage of hatred or counter-violence. It is the age of charity, compassion and generosity.

Rousseau's thoughts on adolescence make one realize that it is a problematic stage only because we have continued to consider it as such without trying to understand it as a part of the natural course of development of an individual from early childhood to adulthood. He was convinced that if a youth has not lost his simplicity and straight-forwardness by the age of twenty he will be generous and have ample love in his heart till his most mature stage of life. He will be loved by all and he will love all. But then, why does this goodness and simplicity which have been active until the advent of adolescence disappear from one's life?
Rousseau adds: "Teachers complain that the impetuosity of this age makes youth insubordinate, and I see it myself. But is it not their own fault? Do they not realize that once they have allowed this ardour to find expression through the senses, no other way is possible?"3
The first sentiment to which a well brought up young man is susceptible is not love but friendship. Rousseau suggests: "You can take advantage of the new sensibility to implant the first seeds of humanity in the heart of the young adolescent. A young man brought up in happy simplicity is drawn by the first movements of nature to the tender kindly passions. His compassionate heart is affected by the sufferings of his fellows. He thrills with delight when he meets a comrade. If the warmth of his blood makes him quick to anger, you see the goodness of his heart a minute later in his effusive repentance. Yes, I maintain without fear of contradiction that a well-born boy, who has preserved his innocence to the age of twenty is the most generous and most lovable of men."4
This reminds me of something that an elderly gentleman of nearly Seventy years of age, often said to us, about Sixty years ago, when we were school children: "Today's small boys are really funny. They feel shy of taking off their clothes and they go on asking strange questions even before they are five. In our time, we ran around everywhere with only underwear on. We did not even know what is meant by shyness." What this person implied was that when he was twelve or fifteen, boys of his age were not precocious in the matter of sex or aware of the facts of puberty or adolescence as it is understood today. It is evident from what this elderly friend used to say, that the period of adolescence was a prolonged one, when he was a young man. In Indian society the time of manifestation of the bodily changes that take place at puberty was celebrated as an important event in one's life, both in urban as well as rural areas.
For the Indian educator of the past the problem of puberty or adolescence did not arise. The society had devised rituals to cope with the crisis encountered on account of the curiosity and anxiety faced by children reaching that stage. Parents and teachers did not have to go through hard specialized exercises to deal with them. Interestingly enough, none of the Indian languages have a word for puberty which suggest it to be a problem.
Studies of primitive societies also show that puberty was taken to be a part of the normal course of the individual's growth. According to anthropologists, who have studied many tribal and primitive societies, the stage of adolescence in those societies is not problematic by itself. It is not necessarily a period of stress and strain, and if and when it so happens it is due to the changing social conditions.
These changes were considered normal in the daily life of the people. Even today in rural areas, which are far away from cities and large towns and are still comparatively free from the grip of the urban lifestyle, the problem of puberty is not as severe as it is in the cities. This does not imply that people living in those areas are better off than the city people, but the fact remains that they are still free from some of the inhibitions from which city folk suffer.
Such tensions and stresses have become "normal" characteristics and, at the same time, problems, in modern societies. They make a more or less permanent impact on the sensitive mind of the adolescent, which is harmful and proves to be more damaging during the later years of his life. In the mind of the adolescent, the healthy spirit of enquiry turns into restlessness and eagerness into madness. Earlier societies did not suffer so much from these crises because there was less conflict between ideals and their practical application; there was very little difference of approach in the minds of people about lifestyles, and hardly any vagueness in regard to the rules of social behaviour.
It seems that the main reason behind the sense of unity between thought and action was the simplicity and clarity of the social structure and thinking. Life then was simple and clearly defined, whereas modern life has become extremely complex, and difficult. It is hard to reach unity among an endless number of interests and ideologies cherished, entertained and practised by people at different levels. On the other hand, earlier societies functioned around certain focal points, such as religion, rulers, temples, etc.
A concrete example of the way some earlier societies were designed is Shrirangam, a city in South India. Although it is not a typical example, it should illustrate the point made here. It is built around the famous temple after which it derives its name. The city has seven circles around it. At one time it was an extremely organized and disciplined city. The innermost circle had the temple, around which lived the priests, the top brahmin hierarchy, who wielded power. In the second circle resided the upper-caste people, superior in terms of caste and wealth. The other circles had traders and bureaucrats etc. according to their social hierarchical levels. In the outermost circle lived the shudras, the service communities, the so called untouchables.
It was clearly defined as to members of which caste or community could live in which of the circles. The shudras could not go anywhere near the inner circles, except for rendering services. Members of some of the groups could not get into the temple for worship; they had to do it in some fixed areas of the temple compound. The untouchables could perform their worship by facing the shikhara (towering canopy at the entrance) of the temple, which was visible from everywhere in the city. Every kind of behaviour on the part of each of the communities was clearly defined.
Only a social or political revolt could have stirred up matters. Otherwise life in the city-went on "smoothly". Religious practices had solutions to every problem, individual or communal. The community as a whole looked after the "welfare" of everybody. Even the lowest in the society received at least a meal a day, however scanty. I believe that there were no deaths on account of starvation, and 'people didn't have to go naked for want of clothing of some sort. Everyone had some kind of shelter to live in with their families.
The above description should not give an impression that it was a regimented society and that the city was like a prison. There was freedom of thought, action, work etc. But the religious pattern of life had its own built-in parameters, within which one had to live and behave. It has already been mentioned that some communities still live a life of less tension, specially in remote rural and tribal areas.
The main purpose in giving the example of Shrirangam is to illustrate the fact that a society with a simpler structure has less tensions and internal conflicts, which makes life easier for most people, particularly for children reaching the stage of adolescence. By no means, is it suggested that the type of society represented by Shrirangam is an ideal one for today and is worth striving for. Moreover, it would be impossible to achieve it in the present situation. Modern life has become complex and confused with a crowd of ideologies (or non-ideologies for that matter) and options to choose from. Ever increasing amount of information—social, political, scientific—to make ourselves "well informed", creates confusion in the minds of people, who want to make their own choices. There are so many power centres to pull human beings, by fear and force, persuasion and enticement in all sorts of directions; attractions of all kinds to make their paths more and more confused.
In a way, it is .a healthy stage in human history, a stage that compels us to think about what is desirable and what should be rejected, with the aim of building a society that provides freedom to the individual as well as to communities to evolve their own lifestyle and at the same time develop the sense of care and equality for everyone.
Unfortunately, today, human society is passing through a serious crisis in its value system. The pursuit for knowledge, which has inspired human beings to reach the highest levels of humanity and wisdom, has shifted its emphasis to greed for wealth, power, status and war mongering—the skills to destroy the world and kill masses of innocent people. The artist, who was once considered a yogi in India, has given up practising his yoga and does everything else that can give him fame and wealth. There is hardly any aspect of human life that has been spared such ugly trends which have become the background note of the music of modern life.
To put the arguments graphically, I compare the older society with a circle, around whose centre many circles are drawn or/and in which straight lines are drawn from the circumference to the centre. These lines do not clash with each other nor do the circles do so. There are no complications of any kind. Its dynamics are simple and by the virtue of its structural movements there are fewer chances of any conflict arising.
On the other hand, modern society is like an atom which has a nucleus around which many electrons orbit with great speed. All its movements are governed by the nucleus. If the nucleus ceases to control the movements of the electrons going round it with their own paths within the body of the atom, it will not only be destroyed but also cause destruction to the surroundings. The atom bomb is built on a similar principle.
Although modern society has all the characteristics of the atom, its nucleus has either not yet been created, or, what is more likely, it has lost most of its controls. After all, the earlier society too had a nucleus! The question is: Why can't modern society transform itself into one suited for the changing situations, with the same character as that of the nucleus of the atom? Although it is not my task to find the answer to this question, the effort, nonetheless, is to explore how the human society can rediscover its bearings and build an outlook which would govern our movements and behaviour in a socially more meaningful manner.
Fortunately, the basic unit of human society is the individual, who has something called conscience, which tries to keep an eye on everything that he or she does. Although today human conscience seems to have become blunt, it has not yet been totally destroyed. If rejuvenated it can redeem man's behaviour and aspirations from the stage of restlessness, mad race and distrust, that he has got into due to many factors typical of the modern industrial society.
It is encouraging that some social scientists have become conscious about the dislocation of human relationships, including our relationship with nature. They have also become aware of the forces that can bring about coordination and conciliation between the various trends, options and aims among different interests in society. The major problem before them is to discover and activate physical and non-physical forces which can act in human society in the way the nucleus of the atom does in keeping the balance and harmony in the movements of the various electrons constantly orbiting around it. It is a part of the universal law of dynamics according to which, a centre of gravity/ attraction is needed to initiate and regulate all the movements of every object. This law also applies to the organization and regulation of human society. What kind of centres are these which need to be discovered? This is the most crucial and challenging question that has to be faced by the educational world.
It has already been stated that the earlier social pattern, which generally speaking had only one coordinating centre, cannot be revived, nor is desirable at this stage of human development. The only hope lies in restructuring society on the basis that can bring out the best and the most creative potential of the individual as well as the society in which he or she lives. In other words, to build a caring and creative social structure.
A question that has to be answered at this stage is: Need art education be given the same importance during the child's adolescent period as it was in his earlier years? If art activities become redundant for the post primary education, should they not be taken out of the curriculum altogether? It is correct to say that child art ceases to be child art sometime at the beginning of adolescence. The art that is produced afterwards can no longer be called child art: it becomes adult art in spirit as well as in form.

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