1922, London: Edmund Dulac, pen in hand, is not inking an illustration, but writing an introduction.
Impossible to guess at the exact circumstances surrounding the encounter of Edmund Dulac and an exhibition of children’s drawings that took place in London the year before. Was he amongst the guest invited to the opening, or was he alerted by acquaintances? Did he initiate creation of the book or offer to participate, or was he approached, as a prominent artist, to contribute an introduction?
“Christmas: pictures by children with an introduction by Edmund Dulac” was published simultaneously in London by J. M. Dent & Sons, and in Vienna by Burgverlag Richter & Zôllner, in 1922. The book reproduces fourteen artworks created by the pupils of Professor Franz Čížek’s Juvenile Art Class in Vienna in the 1920’s.
Here are Dulac’s words:
We have all been brought up with the superstition, that efficiency in drawing and painting is the privilege of a few adults, that it can only be achieved after a long and arduous struggle, and by means only revealed to an intellectual oligarchy.
From time to time, however, the performance of some extraordinary child seems to throw a doubt on this belief and starts us wondering whether in the face of such achievements, the result of a few tender years’ work, the long efforts of maturity are no so much waste of misplaced energy.
But quite recently in a comprehensive exhibition organized in London by Mr. Hawker, we were shown not a few isolated examples, but an impressive number of works by children between the ages of 6 and 16 done in the schools directed by Professor Čížek of Vienna. These displayed not only the most vivid imagination, and uncanny power of observation, but an unusual freshness of vision, and remarkable ability.
The importance of the problem cannot be overlooked any longer. It goes further than aesthetic pure and simple, it opens a door upon the unexplored and somewhat disturbing processes of the human mind, and the child prodigy can no longer be looked upon as a freak.
Life, some will have it, is a never ending attempt at solving the sempiternal problems that have faced man since his first contact with realities; by seeking his knowledge through them, he evolved Science; when he stretched his activities beyond contingencies in an endeavour to organize the forces hidden behind his consciousness, Art was born, – Art, which was at the beginning Magic, and has remained Magic.
The Artist put at man’s disposal a tangible world of unrealities by means of the most illusory elements, things that have no existence outside our senses – colour, lines, sound – and made him master if he wishes of a world he could conjure up at will.
Through Art man becomes a child again, that is, his consciousness is lulled back into that sleep full of wonders from which he was tragically awakened by the phenomenon of the real world, and whose phantasmagoria lingered through his younger years.
We forget that we had those treasures of imagination, open to our hands and eyes and that we have deliberately buried them under the burden of our growing consciousness, and that all the while the child is there refusing to abandon them and sometimes making them visible and tangible for us and as perfect as the sophisticated phantasies of those more mature years!
To our utter astonishment, he uses a technique which we associate with a training of many years, a fact most worthy of notice, for it is evident that a very good knowledge of drawing can be acquired in an incredibly short space of time, and this may lead to an extension of the methods that have accomplished such good results, not only in art, but in all branches of educational training: a different and better comprehension and use of all the different kinds of memories and associations of ideas.
We fail, in general, to realise that technique is based on memory, the regulating element of most subconscious phenomena. The artist, even in drawing from nature, is reproducing forms that are memorised between the moment he looks at his model and the moment he puts his pencil on paper. Whether the model is immediately in front of him or was, a day or a month before, the process is the same, and it should not be any more difficult to keep an impression of a form for many hours or even days than for the short space of time required in drawing from nature.
Now, the child has this faculty developed to an extraordinary degree, because his subconscious organisation is still unimpaired, and his mnemonic stimulants have not yet been completely replaced by conscious habits. The younger he is, the easier the process. Why then, should we view accomplishments with wonder, and sometimes suspicion seeing that we take it for granted that learning of languages, which involves a far more complicated mechanism, and is sometimes an impossibility to grown-ups, is the natural privilege of children?
Professor Čížek has successfully demonstrated with his methods that the scope of reflexes can be enlarged, and that because a child is taught to paint, he need not necessarily have in view Art as an end and a profession. Understood in that manner, it ought merely of every child’s education; it should not consist any in the drudgery of drawing or stuffed animals, but should aim at preserving the freshness and spontaneity of the subconscious machine that is still at our disposal in the lumber room of our childhood.
This would help us to develop a greater sense of balance between objective and subjective worlds, to lose the fear engendered by the paralysing respect for our own habits, and we might be able instead of taking our cue from the puzzling contingencies that surround us, to time realities to the rhythm within ourselves, and realise perhaps the perfect harmony described by the Chinese philosopher when he said:
“Last night, I dreamt I was a butterfly, and now that I am awake, I do not know any more whether I am a man who dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.”
˜ ˜ ˜
Edmund Dulac, as everyone knows, was an immensely talented and energetic artist. His other writing (how one wishes for a book by Dulac in the same vein as “The Elements of Drawing” by John Ruskin)
Dulac is right in comparing art to Magic. Images were Magic once, and established in ocre and madder and soot the sacred and intimate connections to the world. The earliest artists drew the world in the same spirit that the First Humans in many mythologies are said to have named the animals: an act of appropriation, preparatory to the act of propitiation. The gesture of image-making was equally sacred, some practiced in secret, some in ceremony, Neolithic art is only the residue of the act of its making. Eventually the very act of drawing was dissociated from the drawing itself, the sanctity being invested in the image itself, the making no longer a part. Nonetheless, in images both sacred and profane magic exists in the intangible made tangible, the very definition of Dulac’s Magic
“The Artist put at man’s disposal a tangible world of unrealities by means of the most illusory elements, things that have no existence outside our senses – colour, lines, sound – and made him master if he wishes of a world he could conjure up at will.”
Here Dulac touches on the very reason that pushes the maker of imagery (and for that matter, all the liberal arts) forward: the possibility of touching with your mind’s fingertips the indicible, of conferring a form of reality to something not real – a tangible world of unrealities.
Nevertheless, as Dulac underlines, this “intelligence” is a capacity lost to most adults. “…the child has this faculty developed to an extraordinary degree, because his subconscious organisation is still unimpaired, and his mnemonic stimulants have not yet been completely replaced by conscious habits.” In other worlds, nature, not nurture; a natural capacity which the apprenticeship of adulthood relegates to a memory. No wonder Dulac was enthused by the artwork displayed in London.
˜ ˜ ˜
The illustrations are mostly Christmas scenes, and the artists were all aged between 6 and 16. Every image in the book represents a remarkable achievement. What is it that made the work of these children and teens so accomplished?
Title page and introduction by Edmund Dulac
Professor Franz Čížek inaugurated his Juvenile Art Class in Vienna in 1897. Prior to that, “the ‘father’ of creative art teaching” studied at The Academy of Fine Arts. Lodging with a carpenter’s family, Čížek spent much time drawing with the carpenter’s many children, and was struck by the spontaneity and directness of their drawing. Sharing his observations with his friends, these latter encouraged him to open his own school and put them into practice. He established a mandate, developed programs, and was allowed to open his first classes.
It’s worth noting that the art scene in fin de siècle Vienna rivaled Paris and Brussels. Čížek rubbed shoulders with Secessionist artists such as Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser and architect Otto Wagner. The official magazine of the Vienna Secession, “Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring) began publication in 1898, echoing the German publication “Jugend”, and more traditional “The Studio” in London. An artistic revolution was in the air, stuffy and formalized academism was being supplanted throughout Europe in the wake of the breach opened by the Pre-Raphaelites several decades earlier. Art was Young and Art was New: Jugenstil, Art Nouveau, Modern Style, Secession, Liberty and their less ambitious counterparts: Młoda Polska, Arts & Crafts and Skønvirke, to name a few.
In the words of Ruth Kalmer Wilson, a former pupil of Čížek’s, “When Čížek, himself, came around, the procedure was that you were encouraged to draw something or he would tell a story, or ask some questions or say “draw whatever you want.” That was always in a small format. Then you would draw and make several drawings. Then when Čížek came through after about half an hour, he would go around and look at what people did. When he found something he liked, he asked us to make it big. What was used to work on was white wrapping paper stretched over frames. There were squares three feet by three feet or rectangles three feet by four feet or more.”
She adds: “Figures should be big, at least three quarters of the height of the paper. Pencil or charcoal lines had to remain visible; the paint had to be applied very carefully within or around them. Colours were opaque and flat. A quarter inch border line, painted in a colour of one’s choice was to serve the picture as a natural frame.”
Illustrations from “Christmas: pictures by children with an introduction by Edmund Dulac”
Čížek’s classes were free. His teaching has all the idiosyncrasies of a highly personal pedagogy, but was dedicated to nurturing the artistic potential in each individual, not about filling up the ranks of art societies. He stated “The child comes into the world as creator and creates everything out of his imagination… The child is born with creative power, but at a certain age this power begins to decline. Either mannerism or naturalism appears, as a substitute for creative power.” He adds “too many pictures, books, visits to the theatre, cinema, etc., are bad for the child. The child is so strong and rich in his own imaginative world that he needs little else.”
In many ways, his approach echoes the then-prevailing sentiment that simpler peoples, who were considered child-like, had a deeper connection with nature; Rousseau’s noble savage in a classroom with pastels and paints. Nonetheless, the artwork produced by his pupils, if we are to judge by the book, displays many fin-de-siècle tendencies and characteristics, some ascribable to simply drawing from life, others attributable to the Secessionist taste for flat colours and graphic compositions. His observations are indictments against the Victorian establishment as much as they are invitations to explore an artistic purity of spirit.
Nonetheless, an evident sincerity and respect pervade his undertaking. While his pedagogic approach might not seem so extraordinary today, this was a time when girls were still happily excluded (for their own good of course) from many art academies.
Up to fifty pupils attended his Saturday classes and were able to experiment with a wide range of materials, including drawing, painting, wood block printing, wood and plaster carving and modeling with clay. In 1904, the class was incorporated into the School of Applied Arts (where he also taught older students) and continued on until 1938. Franz Čížek died in Vienna, on December 17, 1946.
It is of course impossible to draw any all-embracing conclusion about children’s art from one example. Experts in the field abound, but of course, they are all adults, and I doubt any of them, myself included, recall what drawing actually meant when a child. The Child Art Movement was an eminently laudable undertaking, except the practitioners’ careers are necessarily brief, so definition and direction is by default in the hands of educators and school boards. Remains the encounter between an energetic French expatriate, one of the finest illustrators of all time, and a small exhibition in London, in 1921 or 1922, and the modest book that was the result.
Dulac’s musings, interrogations and appreciations are as fresh as the day they were penned. The ink never dries as far as we adults and Art are concerned: art is for everyone, until art decides what it wishes to do – or not – with us.
 To raise money for his Juvenile Art Class, Franz Čížek held the first exhibition of his pupil’s paintings and woodcuts in England as early as 1912, and until 1935. In November 1920, the children’s art was exhibited at the British Institute for Industrial Art in Kingsbridge, before touring the country. Birmingham teacher Francesca Wilson reportedly exhibited the child art in London in 1921, though Dulac attributes the organization of the exhibition he saw to a Mr. Hawker. (1912 also saw the first exhibition of children’s art in Alfred Stieglitz’s New York 291 gallery on Fifth Avenue.)
 See previous newsletters: