What triggered this post?
If you know me, I try not to tell people how to do something unless it’s about drawing. However, I’ve had about enough of every parent making a future artist out of every little child who may or may not be born to stay creative all his life. (Note that only 2% of the human population retains a highly active right-brain, right into their adulthood.) I’d like all those who love to draw and paint to become artists, and not the vice-versa (either way. Go figure… there’s a 98% chance that you’ve got an active left-brain, so you are the genius,) and this is why I decided to make this post. I expect to be lambasted by some…but I really don’t care – because if you indeed have a little artist in your family, he or she deserves a happier and more productive childhood than your constant meddling would result in.
A quick point to note here is that you’d never hear parents saying that their son or daughter is a born doctor, engineer, lawyer, politician etc. Yet, the moment a child puts the first stroke of color on a piece of paper, they begin seeing a Norman Rockwell, a Salvador Dali, or at least an Andy Warhol in their child. The Indian parents possibly see a Raja Ravi Verma, an Anjoli Ela Menon, or at least an MF Hussein in their baby.
Before I tell you the symptoms and give you the tips, I’d like to make an assertion, “almost all kids draw.”
Almost All Kids Draw.
Given a piece of paper and pencil, every child would draw. My dear parents, a child doesn’t need your constant observation followed by your continual chiding to become an artist. If anything, it’s going to put him or her off art for life. Just because a child draws doesn’t mean there isn’t an Einstein, a Michael Jackson, a Whitney Houston, or even an Abraham Lincoln hidden in him or her. When a child is expected to excel at something that was just a manifestation of curiosity – the expectation and the following demands from the parents could lead to a severe inferiority complex in the child. So, leave the child alone to discover. Kids want to be something different each year, and they generally haven’t made up their minds until they are in their mid-teens.
Yet a few of the millions of kids growing up at any given time are born to be an artist, a scientist, a singer, an actor…and because their internal need to become what they are meant to be is in their blood (figuratively speaking,) they end up becoming what they were meant to be – with or without any help from their parents. What the parents can do is, not to block the way of their child’s natural mental evolution.
I have an excellent recollection of the things that I hated as a child. These things did make me step away from art many a times. If you are wondering whether I must be pathologically emotional to remember small things such as these, I must make you aware of another fact. If your child is of the artistic-kind, he or she may be over-emotional, over-empathizing, over-sensitive etc. We are all like that. My maternal great-grandfather died when he joined the medical college, because he couldn’t handle the dissection of a corpse that he had to do because his father wanted him to become a doctor and was unable to accept that his son was meant to be a poet. Remember, that if your child is made for becoming an artist, you’ve got a kid who scores higher on emotions and less on practical decision-making.
However, if you have a child that’s meant to be a normal, productive, practical citizen of the world, and you’ve branded him or her an artist, you are still doing a disservice to your progeny. You’d build expectations around your child that the poor kid won’t be able to fulfill. This will lead to confusion and overall drop in the development of your child’s personality.
While my best tip on this is – let the child discover and choose, don’t brand him or her too early in life, I know that as a parent, you’ll never be able to do that, so..
In my opinion, these are the 5 Childhood Symptoms that could stamp “Artist” on the forehead of your child.
5 Childhood Symptoms of an Artist
Symptom 1. Notebooks are for Drawing. Period. (Age: 5-6)
Your child’s notebooks and books are filled with drawings that surprisingly make sense to even your jaded senses. Even at this tender age, the artist-child’s drawings will demonstrate an innate understanding of proportions. Note that I am not talking about a hut, three triangular hills for the background, and four stick figures in the foreground. That’s regular stuff. You need not worry that your child will go to the dark side (namely art) if this is all he or she draws. I am talking about newer stuff. Attempts to draw a bird, an elephant, not just a flower, but a rose…that kind of thing.
Symptom 2. Comics are for Looking at Pictures – and definitely not for Reading (Age 7-8)
Your child prefers lonely corners to read comics and other illustrated books. Closer observation reveals that the illustrated pages don’t turn for a rather long-long time. The child’s notebooks are now filled with more interesting and more detailed drawings. The proportions in the figures are funnily always right. You begin to fear that your child is beginning to trace pictures and passing them off as his or her own. If you get that feeling, don’t share it with your child. You’ll break a tiny trusting heart. Others (in your family and your friend circle) begin to notice that there’s something special about your child…and they begin to make unflattering remarks such as, “isn’t your child a bit shy?”, “why doesn’t she go out and play?”, “don’t you think you must meet a counsellor?” – Ignore, if your child is really producing eye-catching drawings during this time. Artists aren’t very outgoing people. Even grown artists prefer the solitude of their studios. Talking to people, laughing inanely at stuff because it’s socially appropriate to do so, is an anathema to most artists.
Symptom 3. First Experiments on Creating Likeness Begin (Age 9-10)
Your child tries to impress you by creating a drawing with an unfailing likeness of you, your spouse, or your dog…of the family. While you shouldn’t be the one telling the child that he or she is an artist, when the child looks for approval, you should be the first one to give it. Yes, you need to provide the child with approval not with a set of dos and don’ts.
Remember that even when you force a child to use a medium of “your” choice to draw, you are forcing the child. Let the kid choose. (For your benefit, if you can draw/color with one medium, you can do it with any other medium. It’s the expression of the picture that forms in the mind that makes an artist, not the medium of expression.)
A Piece of Advice for the well-meaning parents:
Don’t Prattle. This is also the time when the child will experience negativity and jealousy in the environment. Other parents will begin to question the authenticity of your child’s work, because you as a proud parent will be brandishing the artwork done by your child under everyone else’s noses – and while they’ll go “wow”, “fantastic”, and “prodigy” in front of you, they’ll call your child aside and ask where he traced it all from or whether you were the one who drew it instead. This will imprint on to the child’s mind and will remain there forever. Trust me on this.
Symptom 4. Don’t Show me Off! I am not a Performer! (Age 10-12)
Around this age, your child’s progress as an artist will accelerate. Recall that mediums don’t ever matter to an artist – nor will they to your little budding artist. Let the child be, and unless the child wants to show you stuff, don’t meddle. Also don’t go around telling everyone in the family how good an artist your child is. It may help the budding singer, the budding dancer…or any other budding performance artist; it doesn’t help the budding artist. The output of the artistic process requires many iterations before it becomes perfect, and believe me, it’s a time-consuming process.
Asking a child to draw something from scratch in front of a group of uncles, aunts, cousins, is like setting up a time-bomb in the child’s heart. The kid wants to please you, and so tries to draw under pressure, and fails to create something that is really pleasing. This remains in the child’s mind forever. In future, your child will either hide the drawings from you, or draw less. If your child is an artist and you know it, let it be a secret between both of you. Remember that a painter is not a performing artist – a painter is an introvert by nature, a performing artist an extrovert. A painter lives in a world of imagination, a performing artist thrives on interactions. Also remember that the right brain is not just associated with creativity, it’s also associated with feelings, imagination, intuition, and mental imagery. So this child will be a lot more sensitive to everything – to the good and to the bad.
Symptom 5. Almost there. Freebies and Desperation! (Age 12-15)
This is the time when you reap the fruits of your labor, either way.
If you kid was meant to be an artist, either your constant ministrations, your attempts to show-off, and your unrealistic expectations have already veered the child completely off art; or if your kid was meant to be next Einstein, you’ve woven a complex web of confusion around the child. This is also the time, when in 9 out of 10 cases, you wake up to realize that your kid drew only because all kids draw, and that now he or she must become an engineer, doctor, lawyer, or if nothing else, at least a politician.
However, if your son or daughter indeed were to become an artist, you’ll see symptoms such as an increased propensity towards loneliness, increased consumption of art material, increased disregard for neatness…and so on and so forth. If you see this – talk to your child, send him or her to an art-school instead of forcing the kid to find an alternative to Napier’s Constant or dissect a poor squirrel. Most painters are drunk on their imagination – so if you begin to see that dreamy look in your teenager’s eyes, don’t assume the worst. Now you know that a dozen years or so ago, you really had given birth to an art-prodigy.
I’d still recommend that you let the artist child be and not indulge your natural desire to bask in the glory of your child’s abilities. It is going to increase the work-load on your child. Didn’t get it, did you? Let me illustrate. I can’t even recall the exact number of free drawings I’ve made in my life – until one day I was so broken that I decided to decline every damn request of free drawing that came my way. I presume I hurt people on my way – if hurting freeloaders counts, but I just couldn’t bring myself to draw for nothing again. The thought had begun to repel me. Twenty years of drawing for nothing is something, isn’t it? Remember that art too takes time, energy, and it often leaves you with lower and upper back problems. The more you tell your relatives, friends and associates about your child’s artistic abilities, chances are that she will be spending all her waking moments, making free stuff that will hang in someone’s bathroom – all because you didn’t want your child to say no to Mrs. X or Mr. Y.
A Final Note:
In my opinion, a real artist is someone whose work is appreciated by the common man on the street – he or she is the one who was born to be an artist, because this person doesn’t need someone with a studied, conscious, acquired appreciation of art, to appreciate or criticize his or her artwork. We all are born with the innate visual sensibility that helps us differentiate between the artistic wheat and the feigned chaff. This is why, a real artist is appreciated by everyone (exceptions being those who have a personal axe to grind with the artist,) and such artists can exist as nothing but artists. Dear Moms and Dads, remember that facilitation is different from force-feeding. Making an 8-year old child take a course in art, just because you think she or he is good at it – is forcing them to change a happy vocation into a duty.
The best help that you can possibly offer is to be there for them when they need you. These kids are different – they are both a little better and a little worse than their peers.
A Parting Note:
Artist-kids (for want of a better term,) have visual memories. They’ll always remember everything visually…and some of them will possibly remember visuals from the time when they were two or three years old. Those visuals won’t make sense to them until much later, but as they mature, they’ll begin to give meanings to each of those visuals. I don’t know how you’d like to use this information, but I hope it helps.
And the Inevitable Disclaimer (with gratitude to the genius who first thought of disclaimers.)
This post is based on an artist’s experiences and recollections. It’s not based on any sort of controlled research done on child-artist guinea-pigs. Use the tips given with caution. Apply your parental instincts to decide what’s right for you and your family.
if you know any young parents, share this post, as a toast to all those artists who are still in their diapers 🙂
Oh…before I leave…
I am not sure if it isn’t a good idea to eliminate the possibility of your child falling into the clutches of the Art-demon. Here’s my take on it…of course, satirically 🙂 Download the free eBook at:
Click to download in a format of your choice.