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Monday, December 28, 2009

Our Evolving Views Concerning the Artistic Capabilities of the Child

“What the great artist struggles to achieve,

the child creates naturally.”—Picasso

Recently, my colleague, Justin Bergquist, posted a fascinating blog concerning the watercolors of child prodigy Keiron Williamson. I would like to explore our evolving attitudes concerning children’s art practice, education and development. What follows is by no means a comprehensive collection of children’s art theorists; rather, I sought to gather a small group of compelling thinkers from the past hundred years or so, and to showcase their varied ideas and common feelings of reverence towards the child artist—from the seven-year-old Onfim from the 13th century, to children in our current, various school curricula.

Viktor Lowenfeld: Creative and Mental Growth

Viktor Lowefeld held that art is “a language of thought” which compliments the child’s infinitely dynamic character. Children progress through the Scribbling stage, the Preschematic stage, and the Schematic stage in early childhood during artistic expression. Full art education strengthens a child’s inner-resources, developing a sense of tolerance and problem–solving skills.

Herbert Read: Education through Art

Herbert Read believed that “Education for art is education for peace.” The art community’s increasing regard for primitive art within the context of modern art led to the aesthetic appreciation of children’s art—in which the “elementary is always the most vital.” Read asserted a belief in absorbing vital knowledge through artistic practice. Graphic language as a “visual grammar” which builds to constitute a “new language, a language of forms,” is a medium through which we create a meaningful dialogue—a social “organic unity.”

Rhoda Kellogg: Analyzing Children’s Art

Chart drawn by Rhoda Kellogg showing the evolution from earlier abstraction to pictorial drawing. Work by three and four-year-old children.

Rhoda Kellogg scrupulously investigated over one million works of children’s art from many diverse socio-economic groups throughout the world. Her prolific research for the breadth of the artwork discussed in The Psychology of Children’s Art and Analyzing Children’s Art spanned a productive twenty year period. She discussed the anthropological, sociological, psychological, and educational implications inherent in the serious and close analysis of children’s art.

Kellogg classified certain universal modes of children’s artistic expression, beginning with twenty basic scribbles, then the creation of shapes, “combines” of shapes, “aggregates” of these combines—all leading to the creation of mandala forms—circles with radiating lines—which illumine a symmetrical understanding and an orderly harmony.

Kellogg asserted that archetypal child art motifs were a post-pictorial development of the adult mind.

Howard Gardner: Art, Mind and Brain

Howard Gardner’s cognitive approach to children’s creativity aids us in understanding the link between children’s artistry and general developmental progress. Through creative practice, children become cognizant of cultural symbols, and how to manipulate these symbols to combine them in original arrays. In this way, children are “fluent symbol-using creatures.” In terms of graphic creation and metaphor creation, children’s spontaneous, creative practice exhibits “first-draft knowledge” of what it means to be an artist. Gardner and Ellen Winner questioned 121 children from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in terms of artistic origin, production, style, and representation. The youngest children exhibited a charming, rather cosmic understanding of artistic practice (“Songs are made by God,” “A poem come out of a pen,” “The noise of a car going by is music if people like it”), while older children demonstrated an affinity for realism and literalism—a stage for analyzing aesthetics. Art history and art criticism can therefore be tailored in respect to children’s various developmental stages.

Brent Wilson

“Histories of Children’s Styles of Art: Possibilities and Prospects”

Brent Wilson poses the complex question: Can we study children’s art from an art-historical perspective? This is a difficult analytical enterprise, as preservation of children’s art is limited, and conflicting views concerning originality/individuality verses universality ensue. In terms of post-structuralist theory, children’s art across time can be viewed as “interpenetrating.” In terms of child-art “style,” we might historically investigate art in terms of period/era, school/country. Style might be formed in the collective unconscious, forming a subtle coherence between child artists.

One of the earliest child artists whose work we have preserved is that of Onfim (1224-1238), whose images were drawn on the bark of birch trees.

We can see certain qualities of style (bulb-like shaped shoulders, rake-hands, line-nose).

In the latter drawing—Onfim as a warrior, atop a horse. The art of the Dutch Johannes from about 1520 exhibits a style similar to the child’s portrait within Caroto’s Portrait of a Boy with Drawing from 1520. Wilson emphasizes the importance of the preservation of children’s art “upon which a subdiscipline of art history might be developed.”

At MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., we seek to understand art in terms of its historical and social contexts. Additionally, look for my follow-up blog in which MIR will pay tribute to pioneers of early art education.

The certified professionals at MIR will reverently approach the appraisal of your most treasured art. To speak with a certified appraiser concerning your collection, or to schedule an appointment to view works from our online gallery, please call (312) 814-8510 or email

Written and researched by Jessica Savitz

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

Principal Appraiser & Director: Farhad Radfar, ISA, AM

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

Phone: (312) 814-8510

Works Cited:

Gardner, Howard. Art, Mind and Brain. New York: Basic Books, 1982.

Kellogg, Rhoda. Analyzing Children’s Art. Palo Lato: National Press Books, 1970.

Lowenfeld, Viktor. Creative and Mental Growth. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Read, Herbert. Education through Art. London: Faber and Faber, 1943.

Wilson, Brent, ed. The History of Art Education. New York: Washington Square Press, 1985.

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    Chicago, Illinois, United States
    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.