"To create conditions which assist children in releasing that which lies dormant and waiting within them so they may paint their impressions on life's canvas in rich, bright, bold, brave colors is the challenge for all who guide children"
- NIXON, 1969, p.301
"...learning how to "let go" is essential for genuine absorption in a creative process. Even in work with people who have lost confidence in their own creativity, it has been my happy learning that it is not destroyed, but simply dormant, capable of reawakening. While creativity "may be weakened...its expression may also simple become muted, or be altogether behaviorally silent, which the capability remains" (Barron, 1972, p.162).
Why then, do we so often find in our treatment of children a "restriction of a natural tendency... towards play, music, drawing and painting, and many forms of non-verbal sensory grasping and symbolizations?" (Barron, 1966, p.87) What has made it so hard for us to provide them with an opportunity to freely let do and to express themselves openly in both the form and content of their art? While the Puritan blue of work versus play may be partly to blame, it seems to me that a more fundamental problem is our natural human "fear of chaos" (Ehernzweig, 1967). We are afraid, for ourselves and those in our care, of the consequences of lose of self, of fusion, of dissociation, of disorganization, and of regression.
While regression may not sound as dangerous as disintegration, we do fear the tantrum and other forms of disorderly infantile behavior. We concieve rightly - but rigidly-of regression as associated with stress, as in the "Q" paintings of the Easel Age Scale which are said to indicate disturbance (Lantz, 1955). But we forget that periods of stress also coincide with increased creative productivity. "Every challenge and every emergency in man's life may lead to new creative behavior. Let us not forget that creativity is often closely linked with periods of biological upheaval" (Meerloo, 1968, p.11).
We forget that in the development of graphic skills there are periodic returns to earlier forms of behavior; and that in art, as in all normal growth, "while the child attains more mature levels of action and cherishes his recent acquisitions, there is also a continual homecoming to earlier gratifications" (Peller, 1955, p.3). We fear that the learner is losing ground, forgetting that in work with any new medium, at any age level, it is natural to begin with a period of free, playful exploration and experimentation.
All who work with children in art have seen many instances of both temporary and prolonged regressions in the service of growth. For the child who finds security in rigid control, this may be seen in a return to compulsively careful work. More often, it is evident in a return to a less structured and perhaps more playful use of materials. For some constricted children, forced to early to be clean and neat, the capacity "to enjoy constructive work with clay or paint is possible only after a veritable orgy of simple messing with the stuff."
We fear the violence as well as the vitality of children's fantasy life. Even those trained in clinical work sometimes have difficulty controlling their own disgust and horror, in response to the mess and mayhem of a disturbed child's inner life. One helpful beginning is to recognize ones; own honest responses and to get in touch with one's own feared feelings and impulse; through introspection if possible, through therapy if necessary. Indeed, it is my sincere belief that the adult who has not yet made some kind of open-eyed peace with his or her own fantasy life is ill-equipped to help children deal with theirs.
Given tan acceptance of one's own violent propensities and most bizarre fantasies, the task is to create those conditions under which freedom can be safely and supportively facilitated. What Milner has said of her own creative efforts applies equally well to the provision of an appropriate environment for children: "the spontaneous urge to pattern in the living organism... comes about not be planted action, but only by a planned framework, within which the free play of unplanned expressive movement can come about" (1969, p. 263).
The provision of limits and structure are vital in creating a framework for freedom. "Limits define the boundaries of the relationship and tie it to reality... they offer security and at the same time permit the child to move freely and safely in his play" (Moustakas, 1959, p.11)_.
I believe the most critical psychological variable in the freedom/order equation is that of the adult offering art - that the person's attitudes (trust vs. mistrust), expectations (positive vs. negative), and personal qualities (empathy vs. distance). If we hope to promote individual development we must learn to trust the child as a human being with an inherent and natural tendency towards growth, order, and integration. We will not be able to provide opportunities for choice, for independent movement, and for self-inititiated decision making, without "faith in the inner potential of [children] so that [we] will trust them when they wish to explore on their own" (Haupt, 1969, p.43).
[I]t is my conviction that children cannot learn to control and organize themselves if the structure does not ultimately come from within.