Self-expression is a human necessity. It is natural and goes on all the time. Human feelings find their outlets in several ways. A poet gives form to them by writing poems, a painter by painting pictures and a musician by making music. As you go on expressing your feelings, other feelings keep coming, which you want to express. If one's inner feelings do not get adequate and timely outlets, they tend to become stale and often create inhibitions, which can be an unhealthy development for the personality. The place where feelings dwell in a person is like a container, which needs emptying and cleaning out every now and then. If the contents remain inside for too long they may rot and create all kinds of problems. Another factor to be taken into account is that no fresh contents can be put into the container until some of the old ones have been taken out.
It is only an accomplished yogi who can control his or her feelings by conscious efforts and not allow them to be inhibited; not only that, a yogi can make them non-existent. But for us, the ordinary folk, we have to find a harmless, feasible, and if possible, a creative way to deal with our feelings. And when it comes to children, talking about the methods used by yogis, or even mature adults, is meaningless. Children have to be provided with adequate activities to express themselves in a healthy manner.
Art activities are the most effective medium, which allow creative expression for children to express themselves and experience joy in doing so. As an art teacher it was always a great satisfaction having children of age groups between seven and eleven coming and describing the contents of their drawings in detail. It was even more satisfying to listen to children of the nursery section of the school explaining the "scribblings" they made in their classes.
Health Outlet to Aggression
It cannot be over-emphasized that if aggressiveness does not get a timely outlet it aggravates and can lead to further aggression and eventually frustration. Frustration may express itself against others or one's own self in the form of an outburst of violence. It can turn into depression, apathy or self-destruction. Educators believe that one of the objectives of education should be to control aggressiveness right from the very early stages of education. There can bb various ways to deal with this matter, depending upon the situation and the nature of aggression.
An example of a situation, not very uncommon in schools and families, will help to illustrate the point. An eleven-year old child in the Sevagram school had some extra energy, which he tried to let out by hitting or harassing younger children. The school was a self-reliant residential community and was managed by a body elected every month from among all the teachers and students. It had its own kitchen, in which all the work was done by the teachers and students. They took turns doing different jobs.
Wood was used as fuel for cooking. Logs of wood had to be split in small pieces with an axe. During one term this boy was encouraged to take up the task of fuel supply. He organized the job with two other volunteers. It was hard work but this boy really enjoyed using the axe in which, by the way, he quickly became quite proficient. It was amazing how satisfied and peaceful he used to feel after supplying wood to the kitchen every day during his position as the "fuel supply minister" of the community. The violence was channelled into cutting and splitting the wood and must have provided him with an outlet
for all the extra energy he had, which was waiting to be let out. He became more calm in his behaviour. He started painting pictures of national heroes and heroines and battle scenes. Drawing and painting does provide an excellent outlet for children's aggressiveness. It can be called sublimation of aggressiveness.
Social Recognition and Wish Fulfilment
The last item I want to mention in this context is the element of wish fulfilment inherent in art expression. I shall try to explain this phenomenon by giving a simple example of an adolescent girl in my class. This was a fifteen-year-old girl, but mentally she was not more than eight or nine.
To begin with, she was extremely shy and probably without any self-confidence. She sat quietly in all the classes and did nothing, nor did she say anything. All the teachers considered her nearly useless, socially and intellectually. She herself knew that nobody cared for her. In the art class also she did nothing for months. I thought that even though she may be a really "useless" member of the community, we should not do anything that would worsen her sense of inferiority. I, therefore, made a point of talking to her and tried to make her feel that I was always happy to see her and hoped that she would one day start making pictures. To my surprise, one day she came from behind my seat and pushed a piece of paper in front of me and ran away.
The paper had a bright golden patch resembling a person sitting on a floor. This, her first attempt to say something, was probably the expression of her joy and gratitude to the teacher for being treated like any other child in the class. Later, she told me that it was my portrait! The next time I asked her to make a picture specially for me to keep. She made a picture of an elephant which looked like one drawn by a folk artist. I was amazed at its aesthetic content and realized that she had an abundance of it. I went on encouraging her to make more paintings for me. At last she discovered herself, and in due course she became our best painter, recognized by the community. She gained self-confidence and started working assiduously in the art class.
Art activities, at the same time, liberated her enough to be able to express her inner feelings and ambitions. As a girl of fifteen/sixteen, every now and then, she would paint colourful pictures with different compositions of a bride sitting in a wedding canopy. A village girl who hardly had any prospect of becoming an independent individual, could only wish to get "properly" married!
In this chapter I have tried to describe some of the important aspects of art activities in which children experience joy, and which generate a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. Now I want to describe one of the projects we conducted with older children, twelve to fourteen years of age. It was to write and publish books. This experiment was aimed at a wide range of factors, emotional as well as intellectual, involved in the personality development of children.
One evening, a boy who used to take a special interest in art activities, came to me and said he had a serious question which was bothering him and which he would like to ask me. The question was: How do people write books? I tried to answer the question in a rather simplistic manner. I said: When someone has something to say, describe, or elaborate, he or she writes it down on paper. After revising and polishing the text, it is offered to firms called publishers. If the publishers like it they will print dozens or hundreds of copies of the book for the market.
The young artist was not satisfied, because he wanted to know how wrote a book, and not by whom or how it is published. He, perhaps, wanted to know enough on the subject to equip himself for writing books. I told him that if he himself had something to say or communicate to others he could write it down in the same way as he would write a letter or an essay, as he would sometimes write in his class. If someone has something to tell others, or argue, he or she can write it in the form of a book. Then I said to him: If you wish to do so, you too can write one. He found the proposal exciting and expressed his wish to write a book. Noticing his enthusiasm I suggested that he should raise the question in the next art class, when all the children would be present to discuss the question. They too might be interested in trying their hand at it.
The next afternoon, when everyone had come to the art class, this enthusiast raised his hand and insisted that we should first deal with the question: How do people write books? He presented a report of our previous day's conversation and his decision to write a book. For about half an hour the same kind of conversation took place, this time in a group, with most of the children taking part. Everyone was excited at the prospect of becoming authors of books, previously an unheard of possibility for children of that age. I asked the whole class: "Who among you would like to write your own books?" Almost everyone raised their hands. I was not surprised, but I knew that some would be dropouts when it came to specifics.
Now the next step was to choose themes for their books. That was a bit tough for some of them. Out of the thirteen children present in the class, only six were able to take a definite decision to work on the project, which would be strictly of fifteen-days duration. They chose their themes too. One chose to write Mahabharata, another Ramayana—the two great epics—the third decided to write the story of Child Lord Krishna, the other three said that they would write the lives of their favourites saints: Mirabai, Sakhubai and Gyaneshwara.
After a fairly detailed group consultation the would be authors decided that work on the project would include collecting information material, check it with any of the teachers, revising and editing the text, writing it in some kind of a neat and attractive style with simple decorations on each page to make it look like a proper book, illustrating the story with at least ten paintings of their own, arranging the material in systematic manner, giving a page each for the list of contents and the list of illustrations, and a page for the author's birth, date and/or any other information he or she wanted to give, hand-binding the book and launching it.
Every author was free to choose or devise his or her own style. My role in the whole project was mainly to give companionship to the writers, illustrators and calligraphists, bookbinders and publishers. It -was a bit taxing, being a twelve-hour day, continuously for fifteen days, but was most creative and enjoyable. It proved to be very enriching.
It was now my task to convince the staff council to allow the experiment to be conducted by giving full freedom from other activities and responsibilities to these six children. The would-be authors would have freedom to go and meet anyone at any sensible time, including some people in the nearby village, to do the research necessary to compile the material for their books. They were exempted from attending classes on other subjects and also from the three-hour morning sessions of basic craft or agriculture.
It was indeed a unique experience for these six children; in fact for the whole school, but it was more so for me personally. For fifteen days continuously these children came to the class, which was next to my residence, started their work at a very early hour of the day and continued until sunset. They had to be literally, picked up and pushed out from the classroom when the breakfast, lunch and dinner bell rang. Not even once did I or for that matter anyone else had to remind them of their project work that had to be finished in fifteen days.
The task of the authors of life stories of saints was a bit more complicated than that of the epic writers. Generally speaking, the ears of most children of that community had been saturated with stories from the epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. However, as far as the lives of the saints was concerned, except for some of their songs which were fairly popular, none of the children knew much about their lives. It was clear to them that whatever they already knew of the life stories and songs of their favourite saints could not be considered sufficient for their books. They would have to collect much more than that from every possible source they could find, from teachers, senior members of the Ashram community and people of the Sevagram village.
Exactly on the fifteenth day six beautiful books were "published". One of the authors went so far as "printing" on the back cover of his book the list, "Our Publications". One of the children told me in a deeply emotional tone "...Until yesterday I had not realized that our books will turn out to be so good." Another shouted from a distance "Oh, yes, we were not sure whether these will really be books or something else."
The most important outcome of this project was the enhancement of the self-image and confidence of these children. For me, it opened new windows into the inner world of the child, and an insight into the inherent potential of childhood. Children can accomplish tasks which adults do not dare due to hesitation and inhibitions acquired during their adulthood. The self-esteem of these children rose to a healthy level. I had known rather well that art helps the creator in knowing himself or herself. I also knew that the process of self-expression leads to self-knowing. But the above experiment gave me further insight into the power of self-expression. When a child realizes that within him there is a rich source of creativity, he feels strong and is drawn to beauty and courage, and eventually becomes a fulfilled person, therefore, one who is naturally predisposed to goodness, peace and cooperation.
Experiencing joy through creative activities is an extremely important element for child development, and the major reason behind children taking interest in art activities is the joy it provides them. In this chapter we have discussed the various ways children experience joy and satisfaction through art activities. The main point to make here is that if the teacher realizes that joy and satisfaction, Aanand, is a major objective of education, art should logically become the basis of education.
Psychogenesis of Child Art
The art of children is supremely important
for this very reason: it is the earliest and
most exact index to the child's individual
psychology. Once the psychological
tendency or trend of a child is known, its
own individuality can be developed by the
discipline of art, till it has its own form and
beauty, which is its unique contribution to
the beauties of human nature.1
Until now, my effort has been to explore the various aspects of art education related to the individual and his relationship with the whole of humankind and the environment. We also discussed the goals we want to set for educational programmes on the basis of what we know to be the potential of art education, we have also to discover the natural instincts of the child and the way he or she can and does express himself or herself through creative activities, particularly in the context of the present discussion, i.e. drawing and painting and allied activities. If we ignore the inherent nature of children while planning educational programmes, we shall be imposing adult notions and objectives on them, which would mean not allowing them to fully enjoy their childhood in their own world and to grow accordingly.
According to Indian folklore, a child taught without taking its instincts into consideration is like a caged parrot which has forgotten its own language, but can go on repeating the words taught to him by his master. The present system of education is an example of that very-phenomenon i.e. teachers trying to turn children into parrots and depriving them of their childhood. Do we want to continue with such a system of education?
I was lucky to have started my experiments with children of all age groups; and that too with children, who had never had any experience in drawing and painting as such. They were mostly from a poor rural background. Even the children of the staff and other workers of the Sevagram Ashram were new to these activities. I realized that it was just the right situation to be in for learning aesthetic characteristics and the natural manner in which children could express themselves through art activities. To start with, I needed to understand the pattern and pace of their growth and the kind of drawings they would make at different stages of their growth, especially as they had not yet been spoilt by the so-called educated adult world.
If children were not only allowed but also encouraged to remain in their own world as long as it was necessary for their natural course of development, they would grow into well-fulfilled persons. They would also be more adequately prepared for adult life than those children whose natural ladder of growth has been squeezed and shortened for the sake of making them quickly row into adulthood. This belief inspired me to minutely observe the art activities of children, to try to discover the nature of those activities and the length of the natural ladder of their growth, specially related to art expression.
No work of significance had yet been done in this field in our country, except that Rabindranath Tagore had encouraged self-expression by children of his school at Santiniketan, and I had the opportunity to get familiar with that work through my teacher, Nandalal Bose. In fact, some records show that Tagore had visited Franz Cizek in Vienna. I have no doubt that with his understanding of children, he must have been impressed by Cizek'swork with them.
It was Cizek who popularized the term child art, though already in 1905 Georg Kerschensteiner, superintendent of the Munich schools had published a book, Die Entwicklung der Zeichnerischen Begabung (The Development of the Graphic Gift), which was the result of the examination of 3,00,000 drawings and pictures of 58,000 Munich school children. Kerschensteiner pointed out the fact, surprising to most people at the time, that the best work did not come from the children of artists, sculptors, architects, well-to-do families and parents with high intellectual attainment in general, but mostly- from children of simple, even poor artisans. In 1928, Wulff, another German, said in his book The Art of the Child: "The task of art teaching is to educate the average talent so far as it can be educated, that is to represent reality directly from perception as it is seen and not as merely imagined." In 1922, G.F. Hartlaub wrote The Genius in Child and defended with great warmth the child's urgent necessity to create, and analysed many aspects of child art.
There was another German, Gustaf Britisch, who had a clear view of child art, which he expressed in Theory of Pictorial Art (1931). His practical influence, though, was not very great, and he and his disciple Kornmann faced much opposition. Franz Cizek used to say that what Britisch and Kornmann had found mostly in theory was proved in his own fifty years of practical work with children.2 Although Franz Cizek worked only in "Vienna, his influence on the British system of education of young children was significant. Next to the British were the North Americans in introducing the concepts of child art in their early school programmes.
In my groping in the dark, with full faith and confidence, I continued to explore and practice whatever I found and thought was of significance for the health and happy development of our children. I tried to find out what a child would do with paper and pencil, when he was able to hold it. If given total freedom during the period of his entire childhood to do whatever the child can or would like to do, what kind of drawings and pictures would the child make? What would be the characteristics of the development of the child's art? That was my query. I found that in an environment of healthy freedom, the work of the child goes on changing in certain stages, which can be clearly defined. The reason I attributed to this kind of growth was based on the fact that children go on gaining new experiences all the time and the more they are able to, express, give an outlet to their accumulated experiences, the more they gain new ones.
The other factor that became obvious to me was that children, much more than adults, want to say something about their new experiences. They have not yet learnt to hide anything, and because art expression comes partly from the conscious part of the mind, but mostly from the unconscious and subconscious, it does bring out things from the inner being 'pure and frank', particularly in the case of children. Not yet having developed the language of words, art expression becomes the major medium children can use to communicate their feelings, wishes and dreams. From the drawings and pictures made by children we also learn about the pace and quality of their development and their nature.