Child art

The other day my wife and I had our neighbors over on our backyard patio for drinks and a swim. As the adults settled in, the neighbor girls, age three and six, played on the swingset for a while. But this was not sufficient outlet for their infant energies, so I fetched a box of big colored chalk for them to use on the concrete floor of the patio.

In short order the girls had produced a marvelous likeness (well, a likeable facsimile) of those gathered:

child art
Neighbor girls create family in colored chalk, while actual family drinks booze in the heat.

The sisters, six and three years old, took to this artful task, or pleasure, as fish to water — maybe the water that a waited them in the pool just beyond the patio. For the girls, Jocelyne and Chloe, I suspect, the pleasure of making art is equal to that of splashing in the pool.

So when does it all go wrong? When does art become a drag, not a pleasure, whether we’re creating it or “appreciating” it? (And if we see nothing pleasurable in it, we can’t appreciate, or enlarge, it, can we?)

I’m not a child psychologist or professional art critic, but I’ve seen enough of children and of art that I have a few guesses.

The burdens of the real world, the reality principle, pile on. Obligations succeed pleasure, and pleasure is tamped down.

Growing up entails leaving the child world and its pleasures. When the child is three or four, he can’t get away with fouling his pants anymore. No one thinks it’s cute anymore. Throwing up is frowned on suddenly — till everybody is 18, anyway, and drunk together and children together once more.

In the realm of education, too, as the child is handed over from parents to teachers, she is told in so many ways to grow up. To abandon pleasure. To forget about doodling and dreaming. to get on with the business of growing up, going vertical, transcending.

He won’t be able to play with Peter Pan forever. He can’t remain in Neverland. It’s a sad, sad day when he’s pulled away from dream and play.

What do you think? Do you still color in chalk, or watercolor, or oil? Do you still scribble? Do you still dream?

Author: Greg Zeck

Greg Zeck taught college English in Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota. He also had a career in freelance business writing and communications. He's retired now in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife Jennifer, where he continues to read, write, bike, hike, and garden.

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