Does Modern Art Mimic Children’s Art?

Many modern artists created a new aesthetic by adopting children’s art style, focusing on simple lines and vibrant colors.

Apr 3, 2023By Bailey Ryan, BA Art Education

does modern art mimic childrens art


Walking around a modern art museum, you may have heard the statement: my five-year-old kid could have painted that. This might be just because some modern art pieces only seem simple enough that a child could have painted them. However, there is a reason why modern and contemporary artists adopted a style that mimics children’s art. Take a look at a number of modern and contemporary art masterpieces that might seem like they were inspired by children’s art.


Do Abstract Works Look Like Children’s Art?

frank stella estoril five l from circuits painting
Estoril Five I by Frank Stella, 1982 via MAGart


Many modern artists used simple, childlike methods in order to represent their complex ideas.  Frank Stella is an abstract artist that exemplified this mission. Stella is best known for his carefully thought, measured, geometric designs with perfect outlines and crisp contrasts. However, Stella also explored the not-so-structured visual world. His work exemplifies the balance between order and spontaneity, something that is not so simple to master.


To certain visitors’ eyes, the artwork shown above might look like something a child could have made by drawing on a white wall using a box of crayons with no adult supervision. But Stella wanted to explore what artists can do with their materials while representing the balance between organization and chaos.


The Childlike Style of Basquiat

jean michel basquiat drawings
Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat,1981 via MoMA, New York


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While some modern artists may have used childlike drawing styles because of their interest in technique, others used it to express their deep thoughts and troubles. For example, Jean-Michel Basquiat showed a child-like chaotic style in his artworks using numerous symbols and written words. Basquiat was one of the big names in the New York art world of the 1980s, noted for being good friends with the famous artist Andy Warhol. Basquiat’s works are known to be vibrant and full of color, much like children’s drawings.


The artist was mainly inspired by the graffiti pieces seen in public places that also carry commentary on differing, heavy subjects. Although his works seem extremely playful and expressive, some might see them as dark and disturbing. These pieces certainly show the inner workings of Basquiat’s mind.


Basquiat’s frequent drawing of skulls and simplistic portraits reflect his interest in anatomy which could have been inspired by the fact that he was hit by a car as a child. His pieces may look like they were created by mimicking childlike ways of painting and drawing and by adding scribbled words here and there. Some people have presumed this was a way to resolve the turmoil that he experienced in his childhood, but no one will truly know the reasons behind his unique style. Basquiat endured racism, homelessness, drug abuse, and mental health issues, all of which were added to his artwork and catapulted him to fame.


Using Your Hands Instead of a Paintbrush

andrea bogdan deep ellum blues painting
Deep Ellum Blues by Andrea Bogdan, via Andrea Bogdan


Now, let’s take a look at a work of art created by a contemporary painter. Andrea Bogdan wants art to be as carefree, stress-reducing, and expressive as possible. Contemporary artists like Bogdan use an eclectic way to express themselves. Bogdan, for example, uses her favorite painting tool: her hands. She chooses to use the side of her palm to create most of her paintings, showcasing the free-spirited, chaotic and childlike nature that exists in all of us, even when we are adults.


In fact, the artist even altered the painting you see above to make it seem more approachable. The first version did not have a face showing beneath all the colors. Bogdan thought that the lack of facial features made the artwork look too sad and chose to improve it. According to her, you can almost always make the work look more fish-like and that’s guaranteed to put you in a better mood.


Bogdan also shows her free spirit by completely improvising when creating her works. Many artists generally use a rough sketch of the paintings they create, but Bogdan doesn’t do this. She lets the real-time moments of the art-making process speak to her, telling her what to put onto the canvas. Bogden’s works are displayed in her personal studio in Los Angeles, where she welcomes visitors.


Escaping Turmoil 

chang uc chin self portrait painting
Self Portrait by Chang Uc-chin, 1951, via Chang Ucchin Museum of Art


Like Basquiat, some artists were trying to express their inner turmoil on the canvas, while others used art to escape the turmoil that was beyond their control. Works created by Chang Uc-chin serve as an example of this tendency. The child-like paintings that he created during The Korean War and his calm, colorful scenes show the traditional life that he attempted to hold onto during a destructive period that was taking place.


His self-portrait shows the artist walking through a field made out of simple shapes and contrasting colors that seem inspired by children’s art. The work might aim to erase the stressful nature of adult life. It’s interesting to know that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art collaborated with The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea to produce an exhibition about the art that was created during the turmoil of the Korean War.


Challenging Norms Through Styles Inspired by Children’s Art 

tim fawcett prickly pear painting
Prickly Pear by Tim Fawcett, 2020, via Saatchi Gallery


Tim Fawcett uses a childlike art style to explore complex, artistic themes in a free, expressive way. Fawcett uses his simplistic artworks to explore the idea of visual dichotomies. Visual dichotomies can be described as two opposing visual elements presented together on the same canvas. For example, in Fawcett’s work, he explores the interplay between concrete and abstract shapes. He uses the concrete shape of a prickly pear and couples it with abstract qualities that can be noticed in the black paint dripping from the outlines.


Fawcett believes that he should be able to express his ideas however he sees fit, which is with freedom and playfulness that are present in children’s art. Art is expressive at its core and one should not use guidelines when it comes to his or her own expression. His work invites the errors that a child would make when creating something. The artist also profoundly stands against the notion that art must have substance and concrete content at all times.

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By Bailey RyanBA Art EducationBailey is an art educator in the areas of both two-dimensional art and art history. She has a passion for studying art of various cultures and time periods. She believes in the power of art to both inform and educate, as well as provide a space to express freely. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Art Education from Palm Beach Atlantic University and currently attends Carlow University for her MS in Therapeutic Arts. In her free time, she creates her own surrealistic artwork, primarily paintings, about the world around her.