shows. When lessons are opened
up to allow each student to pursue
concepts in their own ways, their
concentration is engaged.
For example, if still life is taught
as a composition with overlapping
shapes, objects can be arranged
accordingly. The teacher can issue
an invitation to incorporate still
life in the personal way of each
individual. Bailey might create a
picnic scene. Tanner might focus
on patterns. Clara might narrate
a sequence about collecting and
arranging her choice of objects.
Even if overlapping isn’t shown in a
traditional manner, the teacher will
have examples of original thinking
about the theme—in other words,
Children Have Style
Ruth Straus Gainer
The influence of children’s
art on great artists is well
documented. Klee, Miro,
Picasso, Kandinsky, Calder,
and Dubuffet are among those who
collected, studied, and emulated the
work of children. All are known for
the expressiveness, energy, spontaneity, and freshness of vision in
Children and Personal Style
Children exhibit personal styles
even in their earliest efforts. For
example, they may proudly declare,
“This is the way I make my
clouds.” When names aren’t found
on student work, the whole class
can usually collaborate to identify
the artist based on specific styles.
Surely art teachers should nurture
the development of the unique
styles of their students.
That may seem a difficult task.
Most of us have tight schedules,
short periods, and pressures to use
assessment rubrics for scoring and
grading standards-based activities.
These conditions sometimes result
in homogenized displays that are
not about art but about following
Going Beyond Standards
Of greatest importance is articulating that individuality in art is
important and appreciated. We
should introduce new concepts and
techniques and expose students to
artists of many historical periods
and cultures. But exposure is different from imposing requirements
for a good grade. Viktor Lowenfeld,
author of Creative and Mental
Growth (Prentice Hall, 1987), theorized that a child’s artistic skills
Art teachers should direct sensory per-
nurture the development ception with his or
of the unique styles of Even as fearsome
their students. demands for adher-
ence to standards
loom large, this welcoming attitude
should continue. Bailey, Tanner,
Clara, and all children should learn
that their spontaneous art is won-
derful to adults. There should be an
interplay rather than a gap between
required art and spontaneous art.
Closing this gap begins when adults
articulate awareness and respect for
each child’s individual approach.
Each child is then encouraged to
confidently develop as an artist, and
each learns to appreciate the diver-
sity of art styles.
How can we enable our students
to express their own interests and
points of view? There must be ways
to design meaningful lessons that
embody standards, yet allow for
individual responses. Recognizing
the authenticity of child art reveals
that there are
not only general,
but also highly
individual qualities that need
more attention. Even at the same
age, children can have distinctly different styles of making art.
Bailey, Tanner, and Clara are three
such children, all ten years old.
Bailey uses line in a most idiosyncratic way and is preoccupied
with rendering figures in three-dimensional space. Tanner is
absorbed in endless patterns of
intense colors. Clara narrates visual
stories of lively imagination. All
three children have had these interests since they began making art.
When they are told to do uniform
class assignments they cooperate,
but their hearts aren’t in it and that
Ruth Straus Gainer is an art teacher at
Whetstone Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and coauthor, with Elaine
Pear Cohen, of Art, Another Language for
Learning (Heinemann, 1995).