Drawing: children, artists and communication

I need to escape the tragic side of my temperament.

This is what Miró, the famous Catalan painter, declared through his themes and, above all, through his unique style; he never moved away, in a certain way, from the world of childhood. As Roberta Scorranese, a journalist, also remembers:

These are the bright notes of color that denote Miró’s pictorial poetry: the blue of the sea, the yellow of the sun, the red of the sunset. But, as his poet friend Rafael Alberti had guessed, there was a lot of playing in him. He had fun when he threw buckets of dirty water onto the canvas to give opacity (restlessness) to the background; he had fun drawing tapestries, which Josep Royo would then weave; he played with materials – wood, iron, bronze, fabric.

And it is precisely that of painting, drawing, one of the mediums, of the privileged vehicles of the most immediate and sincere communication by children. On one hand, there is a free flow of the most varied emotions, on the other hand, there are real messages to outside, perhaps to the adult world or beyond the walls of a hospital: actually much attention is being paid more and more to productions of this type, as far as impatient children are concerned.

Riley after having a life-saving heart transplant - Daily Mail
Riley after having a life-saving heart transplant – Daily Mail

For example, an Iranian study in 2011 focuses on the analysis of children’s drawings. Researchers, psychologists, teachers and parents performed various researches to clarify the meaning and interpretation of children’s drawings. According to Lowenfeld, children usually start their drawing process as soon as they can physically hold a drawing tool in their hands. From the first attempts at drawing, consisting of random signs and lines, to the first representative drawing, the children usually strive to communicate with the world around them and to establish meaning through images they create. It is through their drawings that children express their views and interpretations of their experiences. Everything we perceive is influenced by the perception of others. Children show not only their ability to draw, but also to put together their knowledge and visual perception. Through the process of observing and analysing the drawings of young children, each child can obtain insights into the social and emotional, physical and intellectual development: pencil, brush and paper are the best means of transmitting their hopes and fears.

At an early age, the items of their drawing are secondary and drawing activities usually take place in a dimension where physical and psychological activity come together. However, when children become a little older, the theme becomes more important. In a study conducted in Florence, 1-5 years old children’s drawings were studied, and an interesting trend was found. According to this interpretation, “houses” were represented in 60% of the free drawings drawn by children aged 6 and 7, and in these drawings there were very few objects depicted besides the “house” (such as trees and flowers). What the “home” symbolizes are the “emotions and stability that are achieved with life at home, a place where you seek basic needs,” and in childhood where the home represents much of their lives, the “home” is often depicted. And at 10, 11 years, the “home” becomes just an object in a vast composition that includes “trees“, “flowers“, and the “sun“, symbolizing the needs of the world that extends beyond the range of the home. It can be understood that this kind of smooth transition occurs because, as the range of interests grows and needs extending beyond the home arise, they are gradually freed from the strong family ties of childhood.

Children do not choose their tools by chance. When they have the possibility to choose they opt for a certain type of paper or pencils, revealing their mood and personality. For example, large and wide-tipped pencils are preferred with decisive children, while children who have more difficulty expressing or establishing themselves usually prefer fine-tipped pencils. As for drawing large people: usually the huge design indicates aggressiveness and hyperactive. Children who do not fit very well tend to draw exaggerated human figures. While drawing a very small person: usually shows feelings of incompetence, shame, fear and depression.

Cognitive development and drawing skills are important factors to consider when analyzing children’s images. Children’s drawings can therefore provide valuable information on the evolution of their environmental perceptions. The strategies used by children in drawing are interesting since not only they allow us to make a more satisfactory analysis of children’s art, but also because they open the possibility of progressing in understanding the development of their planning and organizational skills in general.

Another more recent article (published by Croatian scholars in 2017), instead, analysed purely drawings made by children with chronic diseases, those made by their healthy peers. The study included 22 children with severe illnesses, formed by the Department of Paediatrics, and 102 healthy children, of whom 22 drawings were chosen. The children were asked to make a drawing of their own choice and a family drawing. Those are the results obtained from the analysis and comparison of children’s drawings: both healthy and sick children chose various subjects in their drawings; colours were less used by sick children; all sick children drew both parents; sick children drew more often other family members; healthier children drew the motifs of sun, sky and grass on their family drawings. Both groups of children used the space offered to draw in a similar way and used similar colours. They did not show statistically significant differences. However, in conclusion, children with chronic/severe illnesses did not express more negative emotions or difficulties in self-perception in their visual expression than healthy children. Therefore, as the previous study has shown, sick children need colours, family and home. Instead healthy ones to go out, open spaces.

Another interesting study focused on comparing the drawing skills of children with those of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Previous studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s have a gradual regression of their cognitive functioning from that of a mature adult to that of a child. The analysis showed an improvement with age in children’s drawing performance, while drawing scores of healthy adult subjects were similar to those obtained by older children. In contrast, the design performance of Alzheimer’s patients decreased significantly below the level of those of 4-year-olds, particularly in terms of drawing errors. Further the level decreased below those of 8-year-olds only one man’s design and in the case of partial occlusion (drawing a tree behind a house). The regression observed in the design performance of Alzheimer’s patients was discussed in relation to the cognitive deficits that accompanying the disease. However also the opposite true is there. As observed in the previous points about the symbolism of the drawings and about Mirò’s style (and further just think about Picasso) others in connection with the world of childhood. One could therefore see this regression through a more positive lens: the Alzheimer’ patients could be considered in a certain way as to have obtained greater expressive freedom, a more solid link to the unbounded communicativeness of the universe of childhood.

The ISTUD Foundation has also been involved in children’s perception of themselves and their illness that more focusing another medium par excellence: writing. Especially within the CRESCERE project, dedicated to the stories of children and young people with growth hormone deficiency, their families and the expert representatives of the care centres. Completed in 2016, the results of the research, the book created through 181 stories collected and the related scientific publications, are now freely available for consultation.

Matteo Nunner

Graduated in Literature at the University of Eastern Piedmont, he's now studying anthropological and ethnological science at the University of Milano-Bicocca. Journalist and writer, he collaborated with many local newspapers and in the 2015 he published his first book "Qui non arriva la pioggia". In the 2017 published "Il peccato armeno, ovvero la binarietà del male".

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Abayomi Ogunye

    I really appreciate the depth of your content. Your writeup has really expanded my knowledge about child art.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.