The importance of art

8 Oct

One of my hobbies is to study the development of children’s art and their creativity. Children’s creative processes have intrigued and fascinated me through all my years of working with children. This blog is the first in a series devoted to art and creativity development in children.

Creativity is not the sole domain of art. Creative thought lies at the foundation of problem solving. Visual art is viewed as an important way to help people develop creative problem solving skills.

We all want our children to have creative problem solving skills. In professions like engineering, construction and even in human relationships, creative problem solving skills separate those who excel at their professions from those who only “work”. Why is this important? The hallmark of entrepreneurs is the knack to look beyond the obvious possibilities. Creativity sparks the possibility of seeing options. Obviously, to see a variety of options and to choose one, assume the courage to take a leap into the unknown. Creative thought does not automatically lead to success. In fact, failure is more often the result.

Research on creativity in young children states that art plays a very important role in the development of creativity. By the term “children’s art”, I refer to the personal, first-hand experience (seeing, feeling, doing, hearing) of the creative process. Sadly, as adults we often emphasize the end result which inevitably entails the copying of another person’s experience. Obviously, this practice nips creativity in the bud.

What then are the requisites for the development of creativity? We could start by looking at the universal development of children’s art. It is a well documented process; and just as crawling is important for walking and running, scribbles are important for drawing, painting and creating. The scribble is not just random marks on paper. Children as young as 18 months will make circular “pictures” on paper, using one colour. The next step is a circular scribble in more than one colour. After this phase, children start to scribble several smaller circles, which in turn leads to the beloved “head-foot man” of which there are several variations.

Children as young as 24 months can indicate that they can observe a difference between drawing and text. This, of course, is no indication of being ready to write. It only shows the keen observation skill of a two- year-old. Smaller circles arranged in a more or less straight line is the beginning of writing. After this phase, the typical head-foot figure emerges. Normally the early image of a head-foot man is a round circle with two eyes. Many times the eyes are outside the head circle. This all is developmentally normal and indicates the young child’s growing awareness of space and position in space. Is this art? Strictly speaking, yes. The child is depicting his or her experience of the self in the surrounding world. This exploration of space, media and emerging writing skills are absolutely necessary to be able to be creative in the true sense of the word.

Creativity is a process. We can be creative if we have knowledge, skills and an opportunity where we can apply this knowledge and skills in a new situation. The toddler and young child are gathering knowledge about the use of space (paper), crayons, paint or collage. Repeated experience will lead to a more effective use of the space and the media. The important thing to remember is that as the young child’s “art” develops, her observation and perception of herself and the surrounding world are also improving. Voila! One day, out of the blue, a picture like this one of the chameleon catching the fly appears. This is basically a head-foot man adapted with four legs and a long tongue sketched after the child observed a chameleon in the garden.

The child’s sense of self and the ability to have a positive image of him- or herself depend very much on the adults’ ability to not interfere with the child’s pictures.  The well-known educational scientist, Sugata Mitra, said we must be like loving grandmothers, stand behind the child and say: “This is wonderful, did you do it? Show me, can you do some more.” In other words, do not interfere with the process of development. The tiny, budding seed of creativity depends on the child’s feeling of “I am unique and fantastic and I can”.  (By the way, colouring books are creativity killers. Keep them far away from young children. Rather give them clean paper, soft pastels and lots of opportunities to explore their own creative process.)

I will share some more aspects of this intriguing process in next week’s blog post.

Photo credit: Flickr


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