Despite the fact that my yearly resolution to do a drawing of my own every day is never fulfilled, I do at least draw or do something arty at work most days.
This perhaps doesn’t always satisfy my own creative needs but it certainly does those of my clients. The children call out most days "When are we going to paint?", and I nearly always find time for them to do so.
Julia Horvath on drawing
After reading a recent posting on Andrew Sutton’s blog, referring to an article on drawing by conductor Julia Horvath, I thought it high time to gather my thoughts and write something.
It is weeks since I down-loaded the PDF-file that Andrew mentioned, I have been carrying it around in my bag until I found enough time on buses and trams to read through it. Now, with the cold weather, and the bike wrapped up warm, I have had a few more tram journeys to and from work than usual, so the article has at last been read.
I have read other presentations written by the same conductor and have read many books on the development of artistic skills in children, both during my art training and since, as an art therapist and as a conductor . There was nothing really new being reported here.
I don't want to review the article it is there for you all to read.
Just do it!
I still don’t know what I will write
As well as having read a lot on the subject I also have my head full of collected experience, gathered over the past thirty-three years, since the day that I started studying art and pedagogy.
I began working with art and disabled people when I was nineteen, being involved in many wonderful projects with a community arts group during the four years that I studied fine art. Later, before continuing my training, I worked in several art and craft workshops for the disabled. Since becoming an art teacher, an art therapist and eventually a conductor, making marks on any surface available has been a part of daily life. Not a day goes past without me or a client producing an image of some kind.
I tend not to analyse it much, not like the books do, or the article that finally sparked me off to write this. I observe and ask questions, I facilitate the doing and I gather lots of valuable information, as yet all stored in my head, and in photographs and drawings.
Basically, I just teach people how to look, and then how to make marks to represent what they see. If they can’t see, then I teach them how to touch, and to make marks /textures to represent what they can feel.
Learn from the process
Of course these drawings represent who the artist is, just as mine are a representation of who I am. I believe that these pictures are there to be learnt from and enjoyed and not to be analysed. Most learning in fact takes place during the process, from the conversations that take place while drawing, from the descriptions of the colours and forms, and from the stories told about the images.
One can learnt from the mood of the artist while creating, and from observing how paint, paintbrush, pencils and colours are used.
Without the artist there to tell us we will just be guessing anyway.
Yes of course, as is often stated and presented, there are differences in the drawings made by people with different physical abilities, just as there are differences in the drawing of people from different cultural backgrounds. There are difference in the drawings made by people from lands with differing geographical and natural features, and, as can be seen in all our work, upbringing makes a lot of difference too.
I remember, when I first came to live here in Germany, how interested my new German family was in what an art therapist was is what one does. One Christmas, after we had eaten our very English Christmas dinner with turkey and all the trimmings (I am a vegetarian by the way, but I cooked it for them anyway), the children amongst them decided that I should draw and paint with the whole family. So, after the pudding and custard, that is just what we did.
I was surprised, although I of course I shouldn’t have been if I had really thought about it, when nine out of ten of the family drew fir trees in their pictures. Tall and dark and oppressive is how I see them, a trunk as straight as a die, with no spreading branches as I would have drawn. I wasn’t used to seeing so many coniferous trees. Where I am come from I would be lucky if someone around the dinner table actually drew a tree at all, Norfolk is very flat and often very bare.
Here in Bavaria there are hectare after hectare of coniferous forest. This is what people are used to. To my new German family around the table these trees are not dark and oppressive, they are part of life. So this is how they represent trees, this is what they had learnt to use as the image to represent a tree from when they were very young.
Without the artist to tell the story we should not be interpreting the pictures. I would have made such mistakes over these trees.
Certain characteristics in drawing are not specific to people with physical disabilities. There are many factors to be overcome by everyone beginning to draw or paint. I have taught many people to draw, people with and without physical disabilities. The first step is always to teach them really to see what they are looking at.
The article that I have mentioned is concerned specifically with small children, but in my work I do not really differentiate. Drawing or painting is often a new activity for teenagers and adults, as much as it is for children. None of them may ever have used mark-making as a means of expression before. It is often an entirely new activity, or an activity that is being re-learnt or revived from childhood.
Drawing with a group of adult stroke-clients is not so very different to the early stages of drawing with children, except that these adults have experiences to draw on from earlier life that a child has yet to gather.
What is important then when teaching children with disabilities to draw? In a nutshell, allowing them to gather the experiences that they wish to describe on paper, or would wish to if they knew about them!
At first it is usually unnecessary for the viewer to recognise the image as something concrete. What is important is the will to express something that has been experienced by the artist, and for the artist to be given the opportunity to do this. It is then my job to discover ways to do this, once the artist within has been awokened. People don’t need to know how, it is my job to teach them. Where there is a will, the way can be found. The artist just has to have the idea or will to paint, then together we can overcome the disabilities. Sometimes we can even use the disability to create the images.
It is not true that in every child there is a hidden artist, as is often proclaimed. In everyone who is experiencing life, however, whether with good or bad experiences, there is perhaps a wish to express this in some way, through speech, writing, music, acting, or as a painting.
Learning and drawing
Whether disabled or not disabled, a child needs encouragement to start making marks, needs lovely, good-quality paper, and paints and pencils, to excite enthusiasm and get good results. Then perhaps we will see the artist emerging.
If a child is not physically able to move around, in the immediate environment or further afield, many of the stimuli needed to promote the motivation to do anything at all, then whether drawing or crawling, playing in sand or climbing on someone’s lap, or banging a drum, then these are missing.
I teach disabled people to draw just as I teach them to make coffee, bake cakes, ride a bike, hike the hills, drink a beer, cheer at a concert. All of these activities have characteristics from their disabilities, all their results are a step in a process of learning. I cannot "diagnose" from these activities, I cannot say "Look at this cake it is lop-sided because one of my hemiplegic clients made it", and I cannot "diagnose" from the paintings.
I teach people to draw and they tell me about their pictures. I can watch what they do and I can see how they interact with me if we paint a picture together. When the picture is finished and the artist is no longer there to tell me about it, I am left with a work of art, a step in their development, and nothing more.
Andrew Sutton -
Julia Horvath -
Practice and theory in systems of education, Volume 4, No. 2, 2009