Interpreting your toddler’s art

Artistic interpretation isn’t like interpreting dreams. Instead of looking for a hidden message, this kind of interpretation tries to evaluate something’s artistic significance or value.

It’s time to get all art-professor – instead of trying to figure out what Baby‘s latest bit of artwork looks like, let’s figure out what it means.

The surface

The first thing any critic looks at is the image that appears on the page. Being able to identify the genre of the artwork can tell you a lot about how to interpret it, and can make your job of evaluating Baby‘s doodles a lot more fun. 

Is Baby attempting to reproduce what they see? Perhaps in a drawing of mama and dada and the sun and a house. That’s naturalism.

Does they take familiar objects and put them in brand new situations – the sun underwater, or their teddy bear flying a kite? That’s surrealism.

Maybe they are capturing the essence of a feeling in the images. Happy sun, funny dada, silly mama, tired house? That’s art.

The medium

Giving some thought to the methods and tools an artist chose can give you insight into their intent, so take a look at the materials Baby used. A work done on paper might be a statement about the ephemeral nature of art. Work done on a wall, perhaps in permanent marker, perhaps in the same spot the artist was previously punished for drawing on, could indicate that this piece is a statement of rebellion.

The artistic context

Some critics argue that proper art critique demands familiarity with an artist’s life and work.

Baby is a product of their life experiences, how is their art a product of that? For instance, if Baby draws a doggy, but has never actually “petted a doggy,” is that distance between artist and subject represented?

Your unique perspective means you have access to Baby‘s entire body of work, known as their oeuvre. There are masterpieces and there are works which are simply a stepping stone to something greater. Where does this newest work fall as part of their oeuvre?

Critique and intent

Now that you’ve properly considered the medium and the context, you can begin to appreciate the work itself. There are many ways art historians and reviewers go about their job of interpretation.

Some believe in “pluralism” which says that there are an infinite number of ways to interpret a piece of art, and that interpretation belongs to the viewer. Maybe you see an exploration of color and shadow, while an uninterested uncle might see a failure to stay inside the lines of a coloring book. Pluralism would say both of these interpretations are correct!

Professor E.D. Hirsch has controversially stated that meaning should be based on the artist’s intent. In this model, you could ask Baby what they intended, and evaluate if they were successful. If they wanted to “draw a pretty picture” you could reflect on whether the drawing is in fact “pretty” and whether you consider the final work a “picture.”

Support your local artist

In the life of every artist there are successes and there are failures. Whether the latest drawing finds its way into the scrapbook or the scrapheap is up to you, the viewer.

While not every piece is precious, your budding artist surely is. Always be ready to give Baby support for their efforts, if not their results.

Parent. Patron. Critic. In Baby‘s world of art, and outside of it, you’re their everything.

  • “Art Analysis and Interpretation.” Columbia College. Columbia College. Retrieved June 1 2017.
  • “How to ‘read’ a painting.” The National Gallery. The National Gallery. Retrieved June 1 2017.

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