• Joan Primm & Tony Taylor

Solving the Problem of the Missing Ear

Updated: Oct 4, 2018

Missing Ear

When young children draw animals from their imagination, they usually draw the body in profile and the face head-on, as in this image. Interestingly, during a print-making class we recently taught, one three-year-old girl did something out of the ordinary by drawing the face as well as the body of her animal in profile, an unusual choice for a three-year- old. Her decision presented her with a problem. How do we know? We asked her about her drawing and this is what she told us.



"I know there is an ear on the other side of the head, but I didn't know where to put it, so it's here." She pointed to the large shape she had drawn to the right of the head of her creature. Even though she knew the ear didn’t belong in this place, it was important to her that the ear was included in her drawing, so she searched in her mind for a solution and this is what she came up with. On the whole, she seemed pleased. She knew her solution wasn’t completely perfect, but it got the job done. The ear on the other side of the head was now clearly visible for everyone to see. She moved on to something new that interested her. [1]

We encountered a similar phenomenon during a recent drawing lesson. The first-grader who drew this picture wanted everyone to see how her hair had been tied behind her head, so she drew it to the side, even though she knew it didn’t belong there. Her desire to represent her hair adornment outweighed her desire to be realistic. She too had a problem to solve and she solved it.



In art experiences where children create their own images, we see the kind of thinking process this little girl engaged in repeatedly. Rudolph Arnheim used the expression, “the searching mind in action,”[2] to describe thinking characterized by deep engagement with a problem and coming up with creative or novel solutions. The searching mind in action is one of the principal benefits of encouraging children to create their own images, for when children create art from imagination or observation, as opposed to copying, they continually discover problems they need to solve. Children may ask: “How can I represent fur? Or water? Or an eye? How can I make it look like the animal is walking, or that rain is falling? How can I show that someone is old, short, grumpy, or kind?” When children struggle with problems like these, their minds are engaged. They solve problems and they make discoveries. They become artists in the true sense of the word.


The "searching mind in action" is not restricted to children whom we might label as 'creative' or 'cleaver' or 'artistic.' On the contrary, all children have the capacity to think in this way.


Each and every time we invite a child to create an art work of their own choosing, we invite them to engage their imagination and to express their ideas. All children are capable of creating their own images. They just need some foundational knowledge and skills, and the encouragement to draw, paint and sculpt for themselves. This is the role of the adult, and the way we can help children the most in art. For when children create true child art, they make discoveries and solve problems. Then they find out for themselves who they really are.



[1] Maureen Cox. The Pictorial World of the Child. Cambridge University Press (2002).

pp. 112-114. Going from a frontal view to profile when drawing is a problem many young children wrestle with, since, like the young girl Quinzi, they may want to include body parts that can not be seen directly. This is referred to as intellectual realism.

[2] Rudolf Arnheim. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. (1974).


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