When you open your child’s exercise book, do you see little drawings doodling on the page’s margins? Or the cover pages crammed with graffiti?
During my school days, such “irresponsible” actions would guarantee one a sure date with the headmaster’s whipping stick. I remember being told by the school head back then that the core business of being in class was to follow the instructions of the teacher, and that class was no place for “goofing around”. The next day I was back in the headmaster’s office — for drawing “Goofy” the 1932 Walt Disney-created dog all over a page!
Intense creativity in children may have long term effects — far-reaching consequences if not properly handled.
Generally, child artists distinguish themselves from the rest of their class by acting different. They struggle to adapt to set rules that other students adhere to, particularly because they see the world differently.
When I was in primary school, I was more interested in drawing the teachers than listening to what they were saying. My fascination extended to seeing patterns in between words in text books. Even accidental designs on the ceilings were a constant area of interest such that no amount of force would make me like school work more.
The challenge for child artist is one of priorities. School-work becomes secondary to the “Art-world” around the class and inside the mind.
Their lack of attention in class is usually mistaken for a developmental disorder called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or AD/HD or ADD). With ADD, one is easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another. Children with ADD have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others.
Child artists sometimes display these symptoms, but that does not necessarily mean they have the developmental disorder.
They may lack the stamina to be attentive in class but it is hardly because they have difficulties performing tasks. There may be suspicions of other mental illnesses such as Multiple Personality Disorders or Schizophrenia, but in truth, most child artists do not suffer from dissociated identity problems, neither do they suffer from delusional thinking that affect behaviour outside the learning environment.
Child artists simply have their interests elsewhere. They are armature artists yearning to develop further and see a leaning environment (the classroom) as an ideal place to perfect their skills. The presence of classmates of the same age gives the artists a platform for peer review of their work.
They usually start of by sketching their favourite television characters such as Spiderman, Ben 10 and Papa Smurf. As the level of creativity becomes more and more complex, the child artists start developing their own creations. The intricacy of their styles determines the specific disciplines within their art which may fall in. Depending on individual approach; one may venture into any one, or a combination of the following; fine artist, illustrator, cartoonist, a painter, a graphic artist, a sketch artist or a printmaker. There are several other high paying and secure professions one may do too. It becomes a problem though when parents or guardians attempt to suppress the behaviour without understanding it.
Luckily for me, I grew up with understanding parents that even helped develop and shape my artistic skills. Others are not so lucky. We regrettably live in a society that sees life as a straight jacket — you go to school, go to university, pass then find a high paying job that you go to wearing a suit and tie, and holding a briefcase. Any behaviour outside the “normal” is perceived as either rebellious or “uncultured”.
When parents attempt to rid of the “disease”, they unintentionally but brutally destroy one’s personality because, let’s face it, the child can never fit inside the straight jacket, even with “tutorials” packaged within the parental laws. What the actions create is an individual with no understanding of his/her area of interest and one who is not really interested in anything else.
Once parents or guardians realise their child is having trouble concentrating on school work and instead developing interest in sketching two-dimensional images on any surface, they will most probably get nowhere with disapproving the actions and ordering the poor boy or girl to “pull up the socks” in class.
Such children need encouragement, because a further development of art skills depends largely on appreciation. Even if the target audience is two or three people, the realisation that there are people interested in viewing the artworks gives one the energy to develop further.
The parents need to en-roll their child artist in art school as a way to supplement the academic education. That way, the child is able to make a distinction between school curriculum education and creativity. When he/she prioritises Maths, Geography, etc during class time, then art on weekends or after hours, then he/she has the choice of either choosing a profession in Art or, no doubt with your full blessings, opting to be that suited fellow with a leather briefcase!
Letting the child artist prosper should nonetheless have boundaries because with intense creativity, the boundary between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. It is the parents’ duty to ensure that they spell out legal, ethical and moral guidelines for their children’s art.