27 AUGUST 1948, Page 22

Free Expression at Whiteacre

Art and Child Personality. By Ruth Dunnett. (Methuen. 10s. 6d.)

Miss Duraorr's book gives a simple, factual account of her experi- ence in teaching art in Whiteacre Camp School which, from 594o to 5945, drew a diverse and shifting population of evacuee boys from the town of Salford. She tells how a growing awareness of the deeper needs of the children and a favourable environment led her largely to abandon conventional art-teaching and to develop an approach which took into account the individuality of each child. " To guide, enrich and make fruitful the spontaneous ideas of individual children is," she says, " to build a secure foundation for the full development of their personality." She is not the first to have made the discovery ; fortunately for this generation of children, many teachers are working along similar lines, inspired by the example and precept of such pioneers as Franz Cizek and Marion Richardson.

The special worth of her book is in its detailed description of how the work progressed and its quotations from the boys' own comments. She has an answer to the stock criticism that children who are allowed freedom of expression in their drawing and painting will never learn the basic techniques, since she noticed that the boys' excitement at finding they could create pictures stimulated discussion of such subjects as perspective, tone values and textures. The power to appreciate art developed at the same time. " There was never any need to fear showing the boys pictures with a non-representational, purely emotional or constructivist content, for they very quickly— more quickly than adults—found an analogy with which to identify themselves, and then the acceptance of the pictures was secured. A Max Ernst, a Ttumard and several Wadsworths were a source of great interest."

The boys included a number whd were dull and backward or " difficult." Miss Dunnett notes the therapeutic value that freedom of expression in creative art has for handicapped children ; as she says, to break away from the fear of making a mistake is vital in developing both a particular skill and a whole personality. She does not, however, make an extensive psychological survey, but merely gives, and comments upon, a' few typical case-histories. The teaching methods are described in some detail, and might well be used as a guide by other teachers and teachers in training. At the same time the book is suitable for the layman, and should please parents by its insistence that learning is something which should be enjoyed and that the classroom atmosphere can be "happy, sociable and indus- trious." " One boy," Miss Dunnett relates, " was _accusinganother boy of copying his work. I casually remarked that it often happened that the greater the artist the more people tried to copy his work. This entirely new angle on the question of copying was appropriately appreciated. One boy said, `But at the other school we got the cane if we copied.' Henceforward boys sometimes took ideas from one another, or from the pictures on the walls, but they always made omissions and additions so that 'any idea they adopted became essentially their own."

The book has four colour-plates and twenty-nine half-tone illus- trations—which is, no doubt, why it has to cost tos. 6d. Some of the pictures are interesting only as throwing light on a child's personality, but two or three are exciting enough to justify the claim that " something of the free, independent spirit and emotions that inspire the work of the greatest modern artists can in children's art be detected in embryonic form." MARJORIE BARNETT.