When Childhood Ends, the Painter’s Work Begins


Gerbera Daisies painted by a 3-year-old

We live in an age of amusement parks, video game systems, mountains of toys, etc.  Without a doubt, for the past several generations, kids have been big business.  It is difficult to realize that little more than a century ago, the concept of the child was essentially unknown.  Until the 19th Century, children were given no special considerations, no special wardrobes, and no special keys to the kingdom of joy.  Kids were believed to be just like everyone else—merely a few years younger.

During the era of Romanticism, people began to view the child as something different than his adult counterparts.  William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience contrasted adults and children; and gradually, childhood was recognized by most as a special time of life.  Children were understood to have qualities—especially those of the imagination and of intuitiveness—that adults no longer had.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in art.  Picasso understood the phenomenon.

Any capable person who has the incredibly rich opportunity to teach art to young children understands it.  In a nutshell, young children paint freely and with total abandon.  They do not intellectualize their marks.  Instead, they respond to the dictates of their own intuitions.  They play with their art materials; and they have fun.  Product is totally unimportant to a child painter. Children paint because they love painting.

But something happens to the child’s perfect art experience.


Lily painted by a 4-year-old

No doubt, someone whose judgment the child valued said something like, “That doesn’t look like a lily.”

Or the adult’s attack may have been more subtle, saying something like, “That’s nice.  What is it?”

Very quickly, the child artist begins to doubt himself.  He may ask the seemingly competent adult how to draw a flower, and without realizing the damage, the adult complies with a stylized tulip, the flower that he himself memorized long ago; and the cycle begins.

The child who knew just exactly what to paint and how to paint it is replaced by another who can never seem to get it right–regardless of how hard he tries.

The adult would-be artist studies drawing books.  He watches videos where others show him how to paint this or that.  He diligently tries to please himself with his art once more. Rarely does that happen.

When childhood and child art ends, the painter’s work begins.

Ohhhh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive–ourselves.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “When Childhood Ends.”


3 thoughts on “When Childhood Ends, the Painter’s Work Begins

  1. This is quite a thought-provoking treatise on how and when childhood ends. It is both enlightening and sad, but if the child grows into an adult who paints then there is some recompense. Thank you for sharing.


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