Artistically Gifted Children

How can parents and teachers assess whether a child is artistically gifted? In Identifying Artistically Gifted Children, Willemina Foeken does a commendable job of summarizing research, listing characteristics of artistically gifted youth, and offering recommendations for parents and teachers.

Foeken believes that artistic talent does not normally reveal itself as early as musical talent. When looking at the childhoods of great artists, we find that the earliest known painting of Rembrandt was done at the age of 19. Although Leonardo da Vinci took up art at the age of 15, all his great work was done after the age of 40. Matisse and van Gogh didn’t start painting until they were in their 20s.

Foeken feels that the most remarkable work on artistically gifted children has been done by C. Gaitskell and V. Lowenfeld who both conducted many long-term case studies. Foeken summarizes the characteristics that Gaitskell and Lowenfeld use to identify children as being artistically gifted. They are
  1. Artistically gifted children show fluency of imagination and expression. These children can’t get their ideas down fast enough. They don’t need stimulation. One idea leads to another.
  2. They might have a highly developed sensibility in certain areas. For example, movement, space, rhythm, color. (One small boy I taught was only interested in tempera paints and lost interest if other media were used. Another child drew only figures showing a lot of movement or action.)
  3. They show integration of thinking, perceiving, and feeling.
  4. There is a distinctive quality to their imagination. These children have faith in their ideas and don’t find the need to copy.
  5. There’s a directness of expression. The gifted child can be very expressive but only if the experience motivating him or her to paint, has been personally meaningful. Such a child rarely responds well to classroom activities where the teacher sets the topic.
  6. There is a high degree of self-identification with the subject and the medium. Artistically gifted children live their art. They are in their work. It is part of them. Even the medium is often like an extension of the fingers. Their work is intensely personal and shows an inner need for visual expression.
  7. Most of these children draw well before the age of 2—usually by 15 months if given the chance.
  8. They are always above average in intelligence. Although studies indicate that all those gifted in art score well in IQ tests, the reverse is not always true. Many with high IQs are below average in art!
  9. All show extraordinary skill with the medium.
  10. There is usually a sensibility for design.
  11. Each child is highly individual and inventive.
  12. The artistically gifted child works frequently on a favorite art form. No encouragement is needed. (Foeken, 2005)
Foeken offers recommendations for parents and teachers of artistically gifted children, based on both Lewenfeld’s suggestions, as well as her own. They are
  1. Regard your child’s art as a record of his or her personality.
  2. Don’t put too much emphasis on the end product.
  3. Display the work of all of your children—not just the one best at art.
  4. Teach your child to respect the work of others.
  5. Don’t correct wrong proportions.
  6. Don’t encourage competitiveness in art.
  7. Provide your child with an appropriate space for work and suitable materials.
  8. Send your child to art classes.
  9. Don’t show children how to paint.
  10. Allow experimentation.
  11. Provide a range of materials and experiences to suit as many children as possible.
  12. Avoid the trap of over-teaching. Teachers need to know when to assist and when it is best to leave children alone. (Foeken, 2005)
Foeken also says not to be concerned if, as a parent, you know very little about art. Some of the greatest artists also had parents who knew very little about the subject. She advises parents to burn all coloring books and “how-to-draw” books. Do visit art galleries with children and make them familiar with the art sections of the library. “Above all, enjoy your child’s creativity but don’t make a great fuss over it.”

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