Painting and Personality: A Study of Young Children

Rose H. Alschuler and Laberta Weiss Hattwick
FOR the past quarter century psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, and educators have been searching for reliable criteria on which to base reasonably accurate predictions as to behavior. It has been the misfortune* or ill luck of such researches that whenever any instrument has been devised, its value has been minimized by one of two very important shortcomings. Either the instrument was devoid of accurate quantitative checks and measures to the point that the scientific method was entirely sabotaged, or — as was more frequently the case — all spontaneity was strait-jacketed with stringent rules and lost among modes, means, medians, and standard deviations.
Notable exceptions (in fact the only ones of any clinical value) to escape these alternative reefs in the realm of tests and measures have been the Rorschach Ink Blot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test of Murray. But in the two-year to five-year age-groups neither of these tests was of much value in uncovering the dynamic aspects of children’s behavior. And, finally, though easel and finger painting had received considerable attention in child psychiatric clinics, the results were never subjected to exact and extensive quantitative analysis.
The authors of this two-volume study of children’s paintings have eliminated all of these shortcomings and present both the professionally trained, and the interested, well-informed layman with accurate insights and incisive interpretations — all in good writing.
Even a partial enumeration of the methods and contents of their work is enough to establish its value. The importance, in relation to the individual child’s total personality, of his choice of media (easel painting, finger painting, crayons, blocks) and of the changes in such choices, as indices of growth and maturity; the actual interpretive value of choice of colors; the expressions in line, form, space usage, placement, again with emphasis on developmental norms relative to these various items; cross-sectional patterns of painting that reveal emotional conflicts and dynamic interpretation of repetitive patterns — all point to a work fundamentally based on the geneticbiological point of view of human behavior. The uses of painting in the diagnosis, therapy, and prognosis of children’s emotional problems are conservatively outlined. Adequate case-history material, instructive plates, adequate numbers of cases, and well-chosen statistical expressions form the scientific bases for the interpretations advanced.
These volumes are not stodgy, academic, esoteric studies for the instruction and guidance of psychologists and psyehometrists. Nor are they case histories of interest and value to the analyst alone, though certainly Edward Liss, to whom the authors give credit for suggesting the study, must be greatly pleased at the contribution this work makes to his own field. On the contrary, they are extremely readable and interesting volumes concerning the development of the normal child.