to whisper, “May they never improve!” What a shame that the ogre jaws of industrialism
are waiting wide open to engulf most of these little great artists! Will any of them escape?
What a beautiful world this would be, and what a glorious Art we would have, if the little
children could grow up and yet remain little children?
Walter Storey in The Arts £5* Crafts Magazine (October, 1912) on the First
Children’s Exhibition Held at “291
In the Secessionists Galleries in New York there was recently displayed an exhibition of
drawings by young children. Do not confuse this exhibition with “work of the kindergarten,”
etc. These drawings, we were informed, were almost entirely done without the assistance or
guidance by teachers or other adults. A careful viewing of them supported this assertion. To
be frank they were the sort of thing that Teacher throws away as of no value. Impossible
horses, grotesque people, colors apparently burlesqued, and all done with a naive disregard of
any law of art, is what we find in the collection.
To one who took it seriously, however, this exhibition was remarkable in two ways.
First, that any one had thought of exhibiting these children’s drawings, second, that these
children’s drawings should become so interesting. If he could forget that they were the work of
children and could look at them with the cold, impersonal eye of the critic who neither thinks he
knows the last word in art nor believes that any one else knows it, then these grotesque drawings
take on a curious dignity. Characterization is their keynote. A little girl draws a landscape.
The grass and trees are brilliant green. Some of the grass a light pea green. The sunlight on the
grass she calls it. Her impression of the scene is obviously there—direct, vivid. No one can mis-
take the sketch for that of a winter afternoon or any other phase of nature. By the same token
no one needs be mistaken about a galloping horse. Objects are drawn with the same directness.
A house is quite a solid structure adorned with windows. Like Giotto’s drawings, its inhab-
itant is plainly discerned leaning out of one of the apertures. These children’s drawings suggest
very much the freshness and simplicity of those child-like Masters of the Renaissance. And
today several men in France have made reputations by drawing and painting in just this direct
and simple manner.
Pardon me, for this very serious consideration of what might appear to you trivial, but I
believe that there is something quite worth while for the student of art education to consider
apropos of this exhibition. How is it that the child with this directness and personality is made
to do the most conventional and non-personal things, shortly after being taken in hand by its art
teacher? This exhibition is to me a startling and sad commentary upon our art education.
Some of these drawings impress me as being the first efforts of children that might do some
remarkable work later on. In fact, I confess to the feeling that almost all of the drawings con-
tain that suggestion. To grow more enthusiastic, it seems to me that the naive impulse as shown
in the expression of children, three to seven years old—the age at which these drawings were done
—is potential of greater things than at any other period of life. Yet in our wisdom, we who know
exactly how things should be done, having studied earnestly with some well known master,—
step in and crush out these childish impulses that no doubt would develop greater things than we
have ever dreamed. What a wonderful thing it would be if the teacher instead of “directing”
could simply watch over and guard this original expression that comes forth from a child’s mind
and personality like a new and beautiful flower.
It seems to me that a great deal could be done toward a little self-education by organizing in
every town a small exhibition of just such drawings. It would need some discernment to do this.
It would also need some courage. But if you could persuade visitors to overcome the feeling
that they were looking at a sort of baby show, the cause of art education might be assisted more
by this means than by the Summer Normal Art Course or the Autumn Teacher’s Institute, esti-
mable as they are. Such an exhibition would show both teachers and parents a new angle of
view into the mind of a child. It would also arouse suggestive thoughts upon our present methods
of art instruction, methods that obtain with a deplorable uniformity from the Kindergarten
to the Art Academy.