Professor extols the higher virtues of finger painting

25th June 2010 at 01:00
Children's artistic intelligence should be developed from its poster-paint beginnings to meet the demands of the modern job market, says academic

Pupils' visual and artistic intelligence should be taken as seriously as literacy in schools, an American educationalist has told a gathering of British teachers.

Professor Shirley Brice Heath, of Stanford University, said that while children's first scribbles were once interpreted as having no meaning, neuroscience now proves that they are linked with language.

She said fostering children's drawing and their ability to think in both words and pictures will become more important due to the growth of the internet and mobile communications.

Professor Heath pointed out that in young children's books the illustrations enhance and deepen stories, but in those for older children and in textbooks, the illustrations become subservient to the text.

This means that while children are taught to distinguish the details in text - such as the different curls of p and q - they are not practised at picking out visual details, even though this can be vital in fields such as medicine.

"It is increasingly impossible to get along without being able to use visual representations. (For example) engineering companies hire artists to help them understand the artistry needed in bridges and art is needed in professions such as architecture, software design and advertising," Professor Heath said.

"We don't want people not to write, but we continue to trust and to judge entirely on a mode of production of ideas that is outmoded."

Professor Heath was in England to speak at the Thinking in Pictures conference held at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Eduction (CLPE) in London.

Anthony Browne, the current children's laureate, and the second illustrator to hold the post, also spoke at the conference.

"Picture books are important because they encourage the enjoyment of reading rather than the mechanics of reading," he said.

Julia Eccleshare, co-director of the CLPE, said: "We feel there is not a lot of high-level conversation about creativity in literature and the role of picture books."

l Playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, who is due to address the Prince's Teaching Institute summer school next week, has urged caution in the time spent on ICT, saying that reading and literature should not be "swept away" by new technologies that give the moving image precedence over the printed page.


Anthony Browne, Children's Laureate, has just released Me and You, a retelling of the Goldilocks fairy tale without words.

His contemporary Goldilocks, lost and scared, wanders into the fairy tale world of the three bears. Showing why Goldilocks was in the house and what happens afterwards gives the story a deeper emotional strand, but the illustrations also reveal another side to the story.

The differing styles of illustration implicitly raise issues of who belongs where and the tale as a whole asks many questions about right and wrong.

"It was one of the most difficult books I have worked on," said Mr Browne. "I painted each picture in chronological order and had to switch from the graphic-novel style of Goldilocks to the crayon world of the three bears.

"I always thought Goldilocks had a bit of a bad deal. I wanted to encourage readers to look at the other side, to see things from other people's point of view.

"I also decided not to give her a voice, so we don't hear from her, she's an outsider."

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