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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Perspective - The 1880's - 1900-1920, "Composition" - 1900-1920, 'School Arts' - 1900-1920, Art Education Associations - 1900-1920, Art Education in the Museum of Art - 1900-1920, The Modernists - 1914-1920, War and Post War - 1920's, Progressive Education - 1920's-1930's, Professional Stabilization - 1930's, Museum Education during the Depression - 1930's, National Government in Art - 1940's, A Psychology and Philosophy for Art Education

Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.

Growth of Art
in American Schools

The 1880's

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"Not any part of the most sympathetic professor's background could prepare him really to enjoy child art at that period of time, though some of the writers came close to doing so when they described the personality attributes of the children doing the work. For instance, they realized that children could produce such convincing effects with small pictorial resources because they would venture to try anything that came to mind . . . . "

" . . . . children's logic in drawings is usually more severe than the conventional practices of professional artists. But children's visual logic is based on their own experience and vision. Sometimes the simple clarity with which children interpret their views of the world results in dumfounding, even terrifying pictures, but these works are seldom illogical in reference to the child experience and understanding from which they emerge."



English and German scholars . . . . published studies on child nature as revealed through drawings. American studies of similar nature appeared not long after . . . . there are two directions of significance [up to 1908 when James Parton Haney's 'Art Education in the Public Schools of the United States' was published]. One group concentrated on the study of the child , his reactions, his intellectual and emotional growth, and the insight into the progress of that growth offered by the "absurdities" of children's drawings. The other group of teachers was more involved in the arts. Their observations and conclusions, while directed at and formed upon the work of the child, were always to be rationalized with adult concepts of aesthetics. This later two-way preoccupation ultimately delayed some of the now obviously needed renovations in art teaching. Nevertheless, child study was to prove more rewarding in later decades than the rest of the confused and often misdirected elementary art education of the first two decades of the century.

A cross section by child-study experts of their observations of child art shows how objectively they studied this work at a time when most artists and art teachers were blind to the positive values of child art. The drawings of young children were seen to have individualized character. Educational values greater than just the encouragement to go on to more disciplined drawing were recognized when boys and girls of the lower grades drew freely. Particularly it was noted that imagination was stimulated and child experience was organized in the processes of the drawing. [pg. 118-119]

These aspects of child work were acknowledged long before the forceful qualities of color and of individual pictorial forms, common to many children, were noticed. At the 1894 meeting of the National Education Association Art Department, the president of the department, Christine Sullivan, said: "Of course, these illustrations by little children are, from an artistic standpoint, simply ridiculous; still, educationally they are priceless. " [National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses, Session of the Year 1894, the Association, 1895, p. 896.]

It is difficult to tell whether she is apologizing because she really liked the children's work or because she distrusted the encouragement of this activity and had to present some rationalization for permitting it. [pg. 119]

"Why should not children draw elephants or chickens or fish if they can, in the first grade? Why should they be chained to cubes and hemispheres--abstract forms or some other traditional system? Why should they not think for themselves? Why should definite results according to a system be expected from individual minds, each one created on a different plan for some special purpose?" [J. L. Todd, Director of the Public Industrial Art School of Philadelphia, National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses, Session of the Year 1894, the Association, 1895, p. 903.] [pg. 119]

Todd was insistent on such a change [from a graded system of instruction in drawing specific forms to one permitting children to draw pictorially at an early age] because it seemed to him a better way to aid the development of the individual. [pg. 119]

[M. V. O'Shea, at State Normal School at Mankato, Minnesota and later of the Univ. of Wisconsin--interested since the 1880s in making such studies . . . . ] claimed as of first importance that nearly all children between the ages of four and nine enjoyed representing objects, people, and animals, and that they drew easily and with few misgivings. Next, he recorded that they evolved personal and favorite diagrammatic schemes of showing such things as "house," "man,' "woman," "dog," and that they used these diagrams without change, regardless of the change in the appearance or the position of any model from which they drew. This led to O'Shea's final point, that there were no logical relations of proportion in the drawing or in the visual perception of young children. [National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses, Session of the Year 1894, the Association, 1895, p. 1015] [pg. 119-120]

O'Shea's first two generalizations would be accepted today. His last statement has been modified in view of the fact that children's logic in drawings is usually more severe than the conventional practices of professional artists. But children's visual logic is based on their own experience and vision. Sometimes the simple clarity with which children interpret their views of the world results in dumfounding, even terrifying pictures, but these works are seldom illogical in reference to the child experience and understanding from which they emerge. [pg. 120]

Earl Barnes published two volumes of Barnes Studies in Education, the first covering the years 1890 to 1897 when he was on the faculty of the new Leland Stanford University. The second volume was issued in 1902, and was based on material produced partly in England and partly in America. Both volumes dealt with child study, but the second book included ten studies on aspects of Children's drawings.

Art education in 1908 apparently accepted the worth of child study and approved heartily of the studies in art. Certainly the common practices in drawing classes were not changed very quickly by the insights available from the psychological studies . . . . These studies in the art forms of children suggest that before 1914 the psychologists and professors of education were closer in spirit to the [p. 120] advance guard in modern-art experiments than they were to their art-teaching colleagues, or to the majority of practicing artists. [pg. 120-121]

Not any part of the most sympathetic professor's background could prepare him really to enjoy child art at that period of time, though some of the writers came close to doing so when they described the personality attributes of the children doing the work. For instance, they realized that children could produce such convincing effects with small pictorial resources because they would venture to try anything that came to mind . . . . Strong emotional power was discerned in the drawings, too, and in every analysis the child's need for showing action and movement was commented upon. Only the final step for the professors remained, that of perceiving that the quality of the work itself possessed strong emotional character, often a marked feeling of movement and action, and zestful interpretation of whatever story or subject matter was being used . . . . of course, young children did and do enjoy drawing. Further, they make constant use of their own experiences as a primary, and indeed only, source of subject matter. The child-study group observed that children's power of organizing and giving voice to their experience could be improved noticeably through drawing. More than once it was noted that each individual expressed ideas better through one medium than another. [p. 121] . . . . it was acknowledged that the beginning of adolescence, and a marked feeling of insecurity as to what one might draw, go together. [pg. 121-122]

In art, as well as in other fields, this field of research has been most helpful for its illuminating work among boys and girls of the nursery school, kindergarten, and primary grades [not directed so much to upper grades] [pg. 122]

One other phase often dwelt upon was that of media used in drawing, and here there was some confusion. Generally, writers were still sure that pencils and line drawings were most acceptable to children and most useful in portraying their ideas. Occasionally, though, there were teachers who began to urge the use of larger drawings, of paint and a wider use of color. Doubtless these ideas state the overemphasis, still current in some places, on painting on large papers as almost the only adequate means of art expression for the younger child. But in the years when studies of child art were new, this urge to enlarge the number of media to be used was an improvement for the art classes. [p. 123]

The subject matter in children's drawings and the stages of growth recorded, from the use of crude and personal symbols to a more adult and realistic use of form, were popular areas of study. Statistical tables were made on subject-matter preferences by grade and sex. These varied a little from place to place, but did arrive at some similar results. Boys were preoccupied with subjects of speed and action, including all the figures of American folk mythology: the Indian, the cowboy, the locomotive engineer, and the seed-demon automobile driver. The girls drew children, family activities, and pictures of girls doing things, A few girls, "tomboys" of course, preferred boyish subjects. The relationship between personality status and growth on an individualized basis, and the effects which these have on art subjects, were not studied at any length. [p. 123]

Personal symbols created by children for all representational forms were watched both for the process of change as the child's observation became more acute and for detecting individual differences in the way the symbols were developed. Sometimes the researchers were upset because the pupils being observed used much the same shapes to draw a man, regardless of whether the man was to be an old duffer in an overcoat or a circus acrobat on a wire. Among many children in the early school years, there was obviously no effort to depict a particular kind of person or to indicate any unique aspect of body or clothing. [p. 223]

But it was always evident that these symbols did change with age and experience. Naturally it was easiest to chart the changes in the [p. 223] drawing of the human figure, in the progression from the irregular, bulb-shaped object, with sticks protruding from it as arms and legs and ears, to the stiff but reasonably all-inclusive figure possible to the children of the upper grades. [p. 223-224]

The changes in some children's work from placing all figures in full frontal position to the profile view; the gradual realization of the body trunk and of the attachment of arms and legs thereto in approximately the usual location; the growing interest in the details of the face, the hands, and simple clothing; and finally the use of many figures in complex narrative pictures--all these were noted carefully and with enthusiasm. As the studies are fully comprehended, one becomes aware of the utter removal they portend from Walter Smith's practices of art education and the use of items like the typeform blocks. [p. 224]

The university people and their graduate students who were making the studies were, however, chiefly interested in psychology. The significance of their work in art teaching was still to be realized by the majority of art teachers. And part of the reason for this slow absorption of research into practice was that psychologists themselves were uncertain when their material was matched against popular and professional art standards. [p. 224]

Whenever child drawings were discussed as art, it was an almost uniform procedure to agree that the "standard" children set for themselves was too low. To that admission there was often added the lament that the requirements of "high" art, or the idealistic best of art, were so distant and virtually unattainable that it was questionable whether children should even be burdened with the thought that their work was art. It was realized that enthusiasm and vigor of expression became first for children, and that any mastery of the skills of art must be acquired later. [p. 224]

The whole scheme of evaluation was based on the notion that the uncompromisingly "perfect" figure drawings of the academic art schools were the only valid criteria of artistic heights. Any knowledge of the broadening of aesthetic values--as seen in the work of artists like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, or Arthur B. Davies and John Sloan in this country--is not in evidence. [p. 224]

In philosophizing on the arts and the work of children, some [p. 224] valuable insights were expressed. A relationship in form was seen between child art and the arts of adults in primitive societies. Since then that comparison has been more closely examined. The positive forms and the nonphotgraphic picture organization are seen to be common to the work of children and the primitive adults, while the expression of the primitive societies is adult and based on maturity of experience, making their art forms essentially unlike any child's illustration or craft product. [p. 224-225]

Contradictions remained for later decades to solve. How could the awkward, even brutal drawings done by many children as forceful expressions of experience become, in course of time, transformed into expressions of the "Beautiful" and, hence, artistic? One study pointed out that children identified things and views that they liked as "pretty," regardless of the fact that the adults conducting the study had much more limited definitions for what they accepted as pretty.

Somewhere along the line, usually deferred for the indefinite upper grades, all the vigor and energy of the young child's expression in drawing and painting would have to become channeled into the expression of beauty. This was essential for the achievement of the universal culture. [p. 225]

Thus, while the studies in psychology were giving direction for the healthy development of arts experiences for young children, a blind spot prevented carrying the work into the years of adolescence. The "grammar" of drawing could be deferred, but it must not be evaded; sooner or later all true growth in the arts was still sought in the dry draftsmanship of the academies. [p. 225]

Continue


[Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.]




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