WITH THE EYES OF A CHILD A.T Ravenette Children's

art is often

fascinating because of its originality, its naivety and

its perception. Psychologists use it to check on a child's development and, sometimes, to try to find reasons for disturbed behaviour which may become apparent in drawings but never come out in conversation. to be viewed in either of On one the hand, as idle products of ways. natural artistic ability; on the other, as objects invested with deep psychological significance. This polarization of views is not restricted to the layman often it is also the case among professional workers. These two books* may do something to justify the best hopes and the worst fears of people who hold either point of view. But anyone reading them with a relatively open mind will be well rewarded by their

Children's drawings tend two


presentation of the different ways of


children's drawings.

Although both books are about children's drawings, they are different in aims and intentions. Di Leo's book is concerned with the developmental changes

which become apparent both as children grow older and under certain conditions of handicap. The second book deals with the ways in which children depict their families in drawings. The emphasis in this case rests on the assumption that children are sensitive to problems and difficulties within their families and are able to communicate them (albeit unconsciously)

through their drawings. Young children and

drawings is in two the first part and in development deviance in the second. Di Leo traces the development of children's drawings from the earliest scribto the representation of the complete human blings





He also shows how the different forms which the drawings take at different stages of development can be matched by different styles of depiction produced in different countries and at different times by adult agists. For example, the typical stance in Egyptian friezes is found in the drawings of children who arc Moving from a 'frontal' to a 'profile' view of the

human figure. He is careful, however, not to argue that children's development recaptures the historical development of art. He makes another interesting contribution to the study of children's drawings by reproducing pictures drawn by children during the last century in Italy; these show that developmental stages which can be recognized today could also be recognized then. In other words, there is apparently some universality in children's representation of the human figure. Part 2 of the book illustrates some of the ways in which children's drawings can be used to diagnose what is wrong with them. The primary emphasis is on groups which are diagnosed in basically medical terms, e.g. mental subnormality, cerebral palsy, cerebral dysfunction and various communication disorders. Disorders of personality are also described in categories which owe their derivation to a medical frame of reference. However, there is always a serious problem when drawings are used in this way. Although a child with a recognised disturbance may produce an abnormal drawing, the same abnormality might be produced by a child who was not disturbed, either as a phase of normal development or as a quirk of his representational style. In this sense, the material in this part of the book is less convincing, partly because the simple way in which Di Leo presents his case invests it with more authority than it perhaps deserves and partly also because it is not always easy to accept some of the drawings as more than chance aberrations of a child's drawing skills. Kinetic family drawings is more limited in its aims, but more dramatic in its content. The authors devised the idea of inviting children to draw their family,

including themselves, with everyone doing something. The inspiration for this beautifully simple task is taken from Anaxagoras, the philosopher of Classical Greece, who defined 'understanding' or 'nous' as 'giving movement, unity and system to what had previously been a jumble of inert elements'. Over a number of years the authors have used this technique with children referred for 'psychological' or 'family' problems, and the book contains 59 (one picture, by editorial oversight, is reproduced twice) examples of children's family drawings. A very instructive sequence of drawings by one child appears at the beginning of the book. These drawings were made in response to different drawing instructions draw a person; draw a house, tree and person; draw a family and draw your family in action. They show how, with an increasingly limited 'briefing', the child presents more and more information in her drawings which can be used as a basis for understanding her.


House-tree-person. 18

Draw a person.

drawing tells us a limited amount about does the pants-type skirt suggest that she is worried about sex? Is the off-centre blouse pattern significant? The drawing of the house tells us a little more but leaves unanswered questions: is the question-mark doorhandle important? Is the balance of the drawing significant? And the third drawing-the family is the criss-crossing on her own portrait significant? Are the father's eyes important? It is really in the kinetic (action) drawing that the girl reveals her feelings most clearly: the isolation she feels within the family setting, the apparent reversal of parental roles, the maze of staircases presenting different patterns of communication or non-communication. This final example certainly makes the point very clearly that the drawing of a family in action has considerable advantages over drawings made in response to less precise instructions. The first

the child




Draw a

family in action. 19

W S/STEft sunlit

'Shaded areas below the waist of mother and sister indicate adolescent preoccupation with this area. Alan is he is 1 6. Great attempts at control are seen in terrified of being left with his rather seductive 11 -year-old sister the "X

phenomenon" ironing

constant theme with children

board used


by mother with the "X" draw to control sexual impulses.'

The text is subdivided according tcVarious themes which include identification by both boys and girls with their parents, emotional deprivation, problems of power within the family and problems in connection with school. Two rather surprising features have been isolated by the authors and they appear in pictures representing different sorts of problems. One feature is labelled the 'ironing board' or 'X' syndrome which appears in drawings where problems of control of feelings are important. The other is the 'A' syndrome, which is associated with problems of achievement in school. When these symbols are pointed out they are obvious, but apparently the authors modestly admit that they were slow in recognizing them at all. The interpretation of the pictures leans heavily on a rather broad psychoanalytic theory and, although the authors quite rightly stress the tentative nature of their interpretations, there must always be the problem of deciding what is evidence and what is inference and, in this book, there is too little text to allow the 20


the shaded area of her skirt


reader to decide which is which. Perhaps this is an unfair criticism of a book which sets out to be illustrative rather than scientific. The two books, taken together, are very valuable additions to the literature on children's drawings. They are interesting in themselves as examples of child drawing and they suggest ways of understanding children through their art. They will not convince 'tough-minded' scientific psychologists, but they will enhance the clinical understanding of people who work with children who have problems. The time has not yet come for a theoretical framework which fully does justice to children's expressive acts, but these books provide another step in that direction. children and their H. Di Leo CONSTABLE, ?6.00

Young Joseph



family drawings (KFD)

Robert C. Burns and S. Harvard CONSTABLE, ?4.00


With the Eyes of a Child.

Children's art can be a guide to their rate of development and can also help to establish the reasons for disturbed behaviour...
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