Children, when given a blank piece of paper, an array of colorful pencils, and are told to draw something, anything, usually start with scribbling in a yellow sun on one of the top corners of their little canvas. Then they will draw a thin strip of blue as the top border and a green strip as the bottom border and maybe a few odd strands of grass poking out of it. What goes in the gaping blank hole in the center? I remember one day walking to school in the spring and seeing little purple flowers growing everywhere. Since I was a young child, these flowers amazed and intrigued me so much so that I decided to draw them in art class that day. The final result, multicolored petals with intricate patterns surrounding a kaleidoscopic, sunflower-esque center looked nothing like the flowers I had seen that morning. Instead, it clearly showed the wonder that I had embraced from this exciting encounter.
What do children think about when they draw? How do they do it anyway? Pablo Picasso had said: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” He had also said that “every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up.” But what makes children such good artists? I think that it is because they are not yet too accustomed and acquainted with the reality in which they find themselves, so they don’t feel the need to emulate it in their art. Why only use purple to draw a flower when I can use all the colors? The flowers were very beautiful, after all. Why draw a dog with four legs when it can have eight? Just look at how fast it runs, surely it should have more. Why not give my friend red spiky hair? She’s cool enough to pull it off, anyway. With no actual knowledge of or ability to create what we as a society define as art, children instead translate their reactions to objects because that is the thing that feels the most real and genuine to them. Also it’s much easier to draw what you want then painstakingly trace out the exact shape of the petals on the flower, and by drawing from their heart, they are creating something truly unique and special; something metaphysical: a direct representation of the thoughts that had gone through the child’s head as he or she created that piece of art.
What even is reality but the certain meaning and emphasis we place on the world around us. As we grow older, our brain adapts to our usual rhythm, soothes out the wrinkles of our regular human experience, and glides us gently and smoothly through life. These actions become so ingrained that they move from the conscious to the subconscious parts of the brain. While children have more neurons in their brain to work through the still surprising and exciting aspects of their lives, those neurons die as we age, meaning that certain aspects of our existence become automatic and therefore unnoticed. Children, then, must notice and react to what we would now call trivial. Those flowers that we’ve seen emerge with the coming is spring ever year are unpredictable and special occurrences for children. A drawing that creates the emotion of seeing the first signs of life after winter is a very valuable one.
And those borders that children set for themselves to solidity their peripheral vision? Could it be their way of reminding themselves that the world actually does exist? To center their mind in one direction, reality, and then go from there. So what did Picasso mean when he praised children’s ability to create art? I believe that children’s art directly reflects a deeper, innocent yet genuine, meaning of the world.
Pictured above is my attempt at drawing like a child.