Gradhiva n°9


Art of childhood, childhood of art

fall 2009 

Special Survey coordinated by Daniel Fabre

In its pursuit of oddities which disturb, modern art has never ceased to push back its frontiers, including “the other of art” in its space. What historians of art have called “primitivism” denotes this movement which flourished at the beginning of the 20th century. Whereas, with the advent of romanticism, exotic otherness was faced with another, that which incarnated the child beside us and inside each one of us. The short circuit took place around 1845, in Paris, under the guidance of George Sand, Champfleury and Baudelaire. It marked, from Corot to Picasso, from Courbet to Kandinsky, from Paul Klee to Joan Miró, a long period in the plastic arts.

The equivalence, already raised by artists, between the productions of the child and that of the primitive, both of which possess “elementary lines”, evokes the idea of some biologists who perceive in the growth of the little human being the accelerated recapitulation of the history of our species. The horizon which opens up is fascinating: is the art of children a reflection of the childhood of art? The scholars – psychologists, pre-historians, anthropologists – then take over from the artists. They soon abandoned the idea of a pure and simple equivalence to scrutinize an enigma which still has not been resolved: why, everywhere in the world, are children’s productions so similar and how do they express the different cultural graphic and plastic arts in which they are raised? The ethnologists of the thirties (Griaule, Evans-Pritchard, Lévi-Strauss, Thérèse Rivière and Margaret Mead) recalled these issues and knew how to seek what children do with their hands.

No doubt the points of view of the artist and the scholar differ – regaining childhood does not mean studying the child – but the means they use – research, collection and exhibition – are identical and often stimulate their mutual curiosity. Today, “children’s art” has become a separate category, isolated in its world, completely absorbed by pedagogy; this issue seeks to trace the many fora where, for half a century, aesthetic creativity and anthropological reflection mutually handed over the baton.

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subject matter: art of childhood, childhood of art

  • Presentation : « C'est de l'art ! » Le peuple, le primitif, l’enfant, [The People, the Primitive and the Child] by Daniel Fabre 

I. The children of art

  • Corot : le modèle enfant, l'impression d'enfance, by Emmanuel Pernoud 
  • Regard sur l’autre dessin d’enfant. [Other Children’s Drawing:] Autour de Fallimento de Balla, [variations on Balla’s Fallimento] by Pierre Georgel 
  • Picasso ou l’enfance en boucle, [Picasso’s Endless Return to Childhood] by Michèle Coquet 

 II. A work of art and an object of science: children’s drawing

  • Le dessin d’enfant exposé, 1890-1915. [The Exhibition of Children’s Drawing, 1890-1915:] Art de l’enfance et essence de l’art, [Children’s Art and the Essence of Art] by Franck Beuvier 
  • Corrado Ricci en Californie : « l’art des petits enfants » (1895), [Corrado Ricci in California: “the art of little children” (1895)] by Earl Barnes 
  • « Dessine-moi un bonhomme ». [“ Draw a little man for me” :] Universaux et variantes culturelles, by René Baldy 
  • Des enfants dessinateurs au Moyen Âge, by René Baldy and Daniel Fabre 

 III. Ethnologists in the field of childhood

  • Des jeux aux mythes : le parcours ethnographique de Marcel Griaule, by Éric Jolly 
  • L’ « album de dessins indigènes ». [The “Album of Indigenous Drawing”:] Thérèse Rivière chez les Ath Abderrahman Kebèche de l’Aurès (Algérie), [Thérèse Rivière among the Ath Abderrahman Kebèche of the Aurès (Algeria)] by Michèle Coquet 



  • 208 pages (20 x 27 cm)
  • 128 illustrations
  • ISBN : 978-2-35744-009-
  • €22