vapors 6, photograph
“I used to draw like Raphael, but it has taken me a whole lifetime to learn to draw like a child.”
– Pablo Picasso
In his book, Art, Mind and Brain: A Cognitive Approach to Creativity, Howard Gardner discusses children’s art in several fascinating chapters. He describes a U-shaped developmental curve in which preschool children often display tremendous creativity, then enter a phase until adolescence of relative adherence to convention from which some emerge to embrace a creative freedom reminiscent of earlier times. Some, of course, do not emerge to revisit these earlier times. I realize this is a vast generalization for which there are numerous exceptions.
What interests me is this phase most of us enter, coincident with early school years, in which we learn the conventions of our society. It may seem like we stifle that early creative impulse during this time, but Gardner makes the claim that it is a necessary interlude so that our more mature creative expression is made against the backdrop of the norm. Preschoolers don’t have that context, which is why their creativity is qualitatively different (not better or worse). As Gardner says:
“the adult artist is fully cognizant of the norms embraced by others, his willingness, his compulsion, to reject convention is purchased, at the very least, with full knowledge of what he is doing and often at considerable psychic cost to himself.”
This phase of learning society’s conventions is akin to an artist learning their craft, going through the hard and tedious work of developing their technique so that they can break the rules with intention rather than ignorance.