The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist

Jonathan D. Fineberg, Author
Jonathan D. Fineberg, Author Princeton University Press $85 (264p) ISBN 978-0-691-01685-6
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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""The idea that modern art looks like something a child could do is one of the oldest cliches around,"" says Fineberg, a professor of art history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and author of Art since 1940: Strategies of Being. But rather than dismissing the comment as an insult, in fact, many modern artists from Matisse to Jasper Johns have consciously tried to capture the ""naive directness"" of children's drawing in their work. In his fascinating, heavily illustrated study (178 color illustrations, 140 halftones) Fineberg shows how children's paintings inspired the works of many artists, such as Picasso, Miro, Dubuffet and Klee. At the turn of the century, some artists organized exhibitions of child art and analyzed its qualities for use in their art. Others, such as Dubuffet and Miro, collected the drawings of children themselves. Klee systematically catalogued and studied his juvenilia as well as his son's drawings. At an exhibition of children's drawings, Picasso said, ""When I was the age of these children I could draw like Raphael. It took me many years to learn to draw like these children."" Postwar artists such as Rothko, Beuys, Oldenburg, members of Cobra and many others were also interested in finding ""expressive liberation through the emotional directness of child art."" And still later artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat even hired or collaborated with children in various works. It's a convincing argument, but Fineberg also does a fine job of looking at larger issues such as how the postwar mainstreaming of psychoanalytic theory provided later artists with a handle on the feelings of childhood that went beyond the previous ""meticulous visual analysis of child art."" (Nov.)
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