Monday, 1 March 2010
Children's drawings, doodles and sketches have been the subject of study now for over a hundred years, and new theories and ideas about what they mean, how they develop, and how they can be used both educationally and therapeutically, are arising all the time. This week, I'm going to look at whether children's drawings, especially younger children, can give any psychological insights into their character and thinking. There is a school of thought that believes that children's scribbles and doodles are in fact deeply revealing of intelligence, personality and emotional state, in the same way graphologists believe that handwriting is for adults. Analysts will look at how the drawing sits on the page, the character of the mark making (for example whether it is bold or light) the colours used, and whether or not it fills the page.
The choice of colour apparently can be significant. Black and purple suggest dominance, (black in particular often being associated with negative feelings) and can be favoured by a child who is relatively demanding. Blue is popular with children who have a caring nature and enjoy company. Red is the colour of excitement, may be used especially by children to don't want to miss out on anything, and is one of the most popular colours for children to use. Pink shows a need for love and appreciation and is favoured by girls, and green is the colour of those who like to be different, like space, and are artistic and intelligent. Yellow also demonstrates intelligence and a sunny nature. Early research seemed to suggest that younger children preferred the warm colours, while older children preferred the cooler colours.
Detailed, careful drawings may reveal a child who feels the needs to try very hard. Bold strokes, especially if close together, can be a sign of stress, strong feelings, determination or anger, while softer marks suggest a gentler nature. The quality of line can also be significant - a figure drawn with light, wavering, broken lines, reveals a hesitant, insecure child who appears to think as he goes along. By contrast the bold, continual, freely drawn line is expressive of self-confidence, and a feeling of security, This child is carying out what has already been clearly visualised.
When drawing figures, the size, and the relative size of the figures drawn is considered to be significant, with more important or dominant figures being drawn larger. The absence of arms is sometimes interpreted as indicating timidity, a sign of non-agressive children, whereas exaggerating the size of the hands is seen as symbolic of aggressive tendencies if the figure is a self-portrait. Likewise, tiny feet are seen as a sign of insecurity - literally an unstable foundation.
All children have their own 'style' and their preferred subjects, and any individual child will produce artwork which is distinctively theirs, but when it comes to interpretation there seems to be broad agreement that a child's drawing will be more reflective of their mood at that particular moment, than of a wider personality trait. As parents, I think we are generally well aware of our children's personality traits and do not really need drawings to inform us - what can be interesting is occasionally to see that reflected in their drawing, though I suppose if there was an issue in their life which we weren't aware of, which was manifesting itself in their artwork, it would be good to be able to recognise that!
When it comes to use of colour also, studies have shown that perhaps unsurprisingly there is a correlation between art education and culture in children's use of colour, which suggests some caution should be exercised in drawing conclusions about a child's personality and emotional state from their use of colour. This too can also be influenced by age, and where detail is important to a child, colour may be subordinated.
I had thought when I first started researching this piece, that I would be able to present my readers with a fascinating, revealing and insightful piece on interpreting their child's artwork. However I have learned that like most things in life, it is not so simple as that!
If you want to investigate further, I found Google Books invaluable for allowing me to dip into the published work available on the subject. Some of the more recent books are listed below:
Draw Me a Picture: The Meaning of Children's Drawings and Play from the Perspective of the Analytical Psychology
Children and Pictures: Drawing and Understanding (Understanding Childrens Worlds)
Making Sense of Children's Drawings
I was originally inspired to write this post after reading the following:
Download a Doodle
You might also be interested in the following post which I wrote a month or two back:
Learning to Draw