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Nathan Vasarhely 12 October 2013

The Act of Expression: Exploration, Experimentation, Spontaneity, and Play Within Child Art Children are like sponges, they absorb everything in which they come into contact with and as a result, shape a world around them composed of various experiences and influences. Louis (2005) considers artistic development to be a journey in which we build upon previous experiences that relate to one another. Regardless, of our understanding of what artistic development is within the child artist, we can all come to a consensus that we develop on our own terms. Children develop artistic understanding through a variety of opportunities and/or experiences presented throughout their lifetime. Children develop this understanding on their own terms, as there is no single way of achieving this. It is unique to the individual as well as the world in which they have constructed. According to Pearson (2001), “children learn how to operate in the world as autonomous social beings” (Pearson, 2001, p. 361), however this is acquired over time through consistent constructive engagement. The art of childhood can be looked at and examined from many standpoints including innocence of the artist and their art making practice(s), its freedom from constrained influence, its spontaneity in regards to exploration, experimentation, and process, as well as the overall artistic development of the child. Pearson (2001) claims, “grasping the relativity of the engagements children have with drawing is a matter of grasping the levels of agency with which children conduct their lives” (Pearson, 2001, p. 360). Therefore, our cognitive relationship with artistic development stems from our actions as individuals. This is dependent upon our resiliency and whether or not we contain the capacity to explore ideas on our own while finding a variety of effective solutions to the problems presented to us. While researching the works of many young children from the ages of three to six, I found that many of their pieces consisted of a playful spontaneity


that only children could possess. For there is great importance in play without determination. It allows one to make “meaningful moments of discovery, rather than broad structural representation” (Louis, 2005, p. 353). From an early age we make marks on the world both literally and figuratively. The beauty of a line draws us in from the very beginning and fascinates us with the infinite possibilities it possesses. As we continue to explore and experiment with line through the act of expression, we begin to see its true power. The way a line moves. The way it wraps itself around things. The emotion it can convey as it enhances the artistic experience. These feelings never leave our minds even as our skills develop as artists. It is with this playful innocence we begin to construct understanding of the real world. According to Ivashkevich (2006), “Stern stresses the playful character of early picture making and defines it as an intellectual activity, claiming that the lines drawn by the child are essentially the ‘markings of thought’” (Ivashkevich, 2006, p. 47). One can see that cognition is preeminent in the maturation of any individual partaking in a series of experiences including those in the arts. We must be willing to accept that we all learn differently and our basis for understanding consists of many factors involving that individual over time. Therefore, the way in which we perceive the world is as unique as the lines we use to artistically express ourselves. What do a child’s scribbles amount to? What do they express? Why do they captivate us oh so much? Pearson states “children might use drawing differently but their involvement in it is defined by the uses that can be specified for their representations. These uses indicate the systematic nature of graphic practice that children develop within” (Pearson, 2001, p. 356) as art is selfexploratory and self-revelatory. This research has provided me the opportunity to examine the works of many young artists from around the world during different time periods as they’ve explored, experimented, and played with line in its numerous expressive qualities when making their own art. It seems as though regardless the area of origin, children’s early mark making revolves around the use of extreme variance with expressive lines, the use of highly saturated colors that bounce off of the page, and the integration of shape to create highly


engaging spatial qualities. Why then do some individuals lose the ability to retain those innocent child-like qualities of their earliest artistic experiences as they grow older and continue their art making practices? If you’ve ever watched a child create, then you’ve seen the look in their eyes as they make every move. It is with a playful innocence seeing and doing things for the very first time that true development occurs. How might we regain a playful quality to our own art making practices presently? Is this even possible or have we been influenced too much by the outside world? If we try real hard I think we can free ourselves from the constraints we have created as a result of our development over time, however I don’t think that we will ever be able to get back to that state of encountering something for the very first time no matter how hard we try. I am currently working on new ways to approach my art making the way a child might, freeing myself of any representation by allowing the materials to do all of the work as they build upon one another in web-like fashion. Sometimes it is spontaneity and the simple act of moving the hand that drives the creative process. Other times application is accidental. As a result, those that see the world through newly opened eyes have influenced me in a whole new way in regards to my own art making practices bringing back the much needed playful quality a lack of experience in the arts creates. References Bruner, J. (2004). A short history of psychological theories of learning. Daedalus, 133(1), 13-20. Eisner, E. (1978). What do children learn when they paint? Art Education, 31(3), 6-10. Eisner, E. (1980). Artistic thinking, human intelligence and the mission of the school. The High School Journal, 63(8), 326-334. Hamblen, K.A., & Jones, B.J. (1982). Art theory as a sociological metaphor. Visual Arts Research, 8(2), 46-53. Ivashkevich, O. (2006). Drawing in children’s lives. In J. Fineberg (Ed.), When we were young: Perspectives on the art of the child (pp. 45-59). Los Angeles: University of California Press.


Leeds, J.A. (1989). The history of attitudes toward children’s art. Studies in Art Education, 30(2), 93-103. Louis, L.L. (2005). What children have in mind: A study of early representational development in paint. Studies in Art Education, 46(4), 339-355. Pearson, P. (2001). Towards a theory of children’s drawing as social practice. Studies in Art Education, 42(4), 348-365. Thompson, C.M. (2005). Under construction: Images of the child in art teacher education. Art Education, 58(2), 18-23.

The Act of Expression: Expression, Spontaneity, and Play Within Child Art  

Children are like sponges, they absorb everything in which they come into contact with and as a result, shape a world around them composed o...

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