High on the list of awkward social interactions is the moment when a dentist or a coworker shows off her young child’s nonsensical art. A bystander might think the art—or at least the fact of its existence—is cute. Or she might think it’s ridiculous or downright terrifying. In either case, a common reaction is to smile and ask, “What’s it supposed to be?”
After all, these creations rarely look like anything fully recognizable or “real.” I uncovered a host of idiosyncrasies after asking parents about their kids’ art. There was a sideways house (or was it a knife?); a giant tooth resembling candy corn; a supposed self-portrait consisting of an oval with some jagged lines in the middle. Observers tend to laugh these sorts of things off as a kid’s erratic artistic process. If the drawing seems angry or dark, they might worry about what it means.
“They are trying to draw a visual equivalent, something that is readable, something that somebody else will understand,” said Ellen Winner, a psychology professor at Boston College who also works with Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, a research group that focuses on arts education.
In fact, sometimes children prefer to draw something a certain way even when they know it “should” look different, or even when they’re well able to draw the object more realistically. Winner once heard about a preschool-aged girl who was drawing a “tadpole” human figure; when her father asked her about it, she said something along the lines of “I know they don’t look like this, but this is the way I like to draw them.” David Pariser, a professor of art education at Concordia University in Montreal, added that sometimes children may draw tadpoles simply “because they’re in a hurry and want to do a bunch of them.”
Read the whole story: The Atlantic