Art: the basis of

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Joy of Doing

A carpenter's son, perhaps not even two years old, sitting near his father who is working with his tools, sees him using a hammer. One day he picks up the hammer and starts banging it around; probably in a manner that suggests he is making something. It is unlikely that he has any such concrete objective in mind. He is unaware of the purpose of the tool, as it is understood by his father. Yet he derives pleasure and satisfaction from the very exercise of doing something using the hammer, the use of his muscles, the movement of hands, shoulders and fingers.
Different activities provide different kinds of satisfaction to different parts of the body. Using a carpenter's tool evokes one kind of response, and using colours, a brush, pencil and paper, another kind of feeling. Apart from various other aspects of an activity, the mere using of the material, of doing something, is by itself a pleasurable experience.

Joy of Accomplishment

Most people, adults as well as children, derive great sense of satisfaction from the completion of an activity of creating some object. Tools, clay, painting material, if made easily available, are taken as a challenge by children, as if it were an invitation saying: Come on! Can you do something with us? Can you make something? The child cannot resist such a challenge, he or she picks up the material, makes something, and says to herself or himself: See, I have done it! This sense of satisfaction, that I have accomplished something', is a source of self-confidence for the child. An interesting proof of this phenomenon is the expression you witness on the faces of the children when they go on staring at their own paintings in an exhibition of their work arranged in their school. I had observed that at the time of the opening of these exhibitions the first things children did was to go and stand in front of their paintings and admire them. I heard them make comments such as: Oh! Look, this is my painting. How nice it is!

Child's Language

Although children do not have the language of words to a degree that would make them express much of what they have stored within themselves, they do have a language which allows them to express their experiences and tell stories fairly effectively. The fact is that their experiences and stories are generally made up with visual forms. For instance, if there is a hill in a story, it will be made up of a symbolic shape of a hill and not in the form of the word, hill. They will feel satisfied only if they are able to express something as it exists in their inner experience and emotions. There is often no word for a picture in their heads only concrete forms, through which alone they can tell their stories adequately. Hence, for children expressing themselves through the language of forms is more satisfying than doing so by the language of words. To be able to express their feelings and experiences successfully is a source of joy and fulfilment.


Adults may be able to control their urge to communicate their feelings to others. However, for children it is not only hard but also unhealthy if they are unable or not allowed to communicate their thoughts, wishes and feelings to others. The language of visual forms, expressed by drawing and painting or drama, music and dance, comes to the child more naturally and spontaneously than that of words, which is a kind of "imposed" skill and belongs to the world of adults. Therefore, it is important that children be given ample opportunities for self-expression in a language which comes to them more naturally than the language of words. The degree of satisfaction they derive from successful self-expression is an indication of the growth of the child's personality.

Dramatic Aspect

In one of my art classes, a boy almost twelve years of age, made a painting on a theme entitled: A Rainy Day. The picture depicted a boy with an umbrella walking towards a bullock tied to a tree a few yards away. All of a sudden he slipped, fell down and his umbrella flew and fell at some distance away from him. This young artist took a couple of periods to complete the painting. The day he was giving the finishing touches to the painting he took it, kept it a few yards away from his seat, and walked backwards, looking at it with some kind of dramatic movements representing the situation of the boy in the picture. Neither he nor any other child in the class knew that I was watching him all the time. He was totally engrossed in the theme of the picture and actually playing the role of the "boy with the umbrella". He literally acted several times the slipping and falling down as the boy in the picture. He was, in fact, experiencing the drama of the picture within himself with great intensity and, I suppose, also satisfaction. He was not acting the scene to show it to others. In fact, none of his classmates notices him when he was acting out the scene.
On another occasion, a child of the younger group made a drawing of a motor car. While making the drawing of the vehicle, every now and then he acted as if his hands were on the steering wheel and he was driving it, occasionally hooting to mimic the sound of the horn. Looking at this aspect of children's art activity I realized that they, like great artists, identify themselves, physically as well as mentally, with the object they draw or model.
In his essay, Chinese Painting in Boston, which was a commentary on an exhibition, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy wrote: "The Chinese artist does not merely observe but identifies himself with the landscape of whatever it may be that he will represent. The story is told of a famous painter of horses who was found one day in his studio rolling on his back like a horse; reminded that he might really become a horse, he ever afterwards painted only Buddhas. An icon is made to be imitated, not admired. In just the same way, in India the imager is required to identify himself in detail with the form to be represented. Such an identification, indeed, is the final goal of any contemplation reached only when the original distinction of subject from object breaks down and there remains only the knowing, in which the knower and the known are merged. If this seems at all strange to us whose concept of knowledge is always objectives, let us at least remember that an "identification" was also presupposed in medieval European procedure; in Dante's words, "He who would paint a figure, if he cannot be it, cannot draw it'."2
I am not implying that there is no difference in the work of great artists and the art of children, or that the dynamics of the breaking down of the "original distinction of subject from object" is identical in both the cases. Nonetheless, it must be realized that due to their innocence, the knowledge that children, who have not yet been inhibited by adult values and perspective, store in their mind is mostly not "objective".
The dynamics of this kind of identification can be partially explained by the fact that to make the visual observation come alive, the artist's body, along with his or her mind, absorbs the movements and the spirit of the object being recreated in the work. The innocence and directness help children in such an identification, ordinarily possible for true artists only. However, the important point is that children derive much joy from the dramatic aspect inherent in art activities.


Children are versatile in their imagination and they spend much time in imagining all kinds of things, specially related to the stories they hear from their parents or other elders and the experience they gather in their lives. For instance, while playing with a heap

Of sand a child makes a hole in it, and it becomes a house or, a palace, and the heap of sand a mountain. A few twigs inserted in the sand become a forest, armies, crowds of men and women, motor cars or what have you.

Drawings made by children during their early years look like scribblings to adults, but for them they can be people, the sun, moon, houses, or anything that they have in their mind at a given time. We shall discuss children's drawings and their psychogenesis in the next chapter. Here, the purpose of taking up the subject is only to point out that art activities help children expand their world of imagination and enthuse them to repeat their experiences whenever they are able to do so.

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