How Have Artists Been Inspired by Childhood?

Perceptions and reflections on children in art

Dr Victoria Powell
4 min readFeb 1


Deborah Roberts, Sisterly Love (2021)

Currently on at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston is an exhibition titled To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood. It’s an exhibition about the influence of children and the experience of childhood on artists; how children and childhood has inspired artists and how their work reflects and challenges perceptions of childhood.

It features a range of artists from the early 20th century to today, and the list is quite impressive. It includes the Bauhaus abstract artist Paul Klee, the contemporary American artist Glenn Ligon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was huge on the New York art scene in the early 80s, and loads more big names.

There are lots of aspects of this exhibition that I think are really interesting. Firstly just the fact that it addresses an area of art history that has been undervalued or certainly not regarded with the importance that I think it should have.

One of the things that the show looks at is the significance of the experience of childhood and teenage years on the development of artists. Whenever I have talked to artists about their journey to where they are now, if I dig enough into their personal stories — which of course I do because that’s what I’m interested in — there’s always something about how important art was to them growing up. So it’s there, embedded in pretty much every artist’s history.

Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach #2 (1990)

Now some artists, like Faith Ringgold make work about their childhood. Ringgold’s Tar Beach #2 (1990), which was one of her quilted artworks, depicts her memories of going to sleep in the hot summers on the rooftop of the apartment building she lived in in New York as a child in the 1930s, whilst her parents chatted and played cards with their friends. It was too hot to sleep anywhere except outside under the stars. And that memory has stayed strong with her throughout her life.

Other artists like Mary Kelly, explore the relationship between parent and child. One of Kelly’s most famous conceptual artworks was called Post-Partum Document (1973–79), first…



Dr Victoria Powell

I write about art, history, politics & culture, without the confusing art speak. Crazy about dogs. Victorian historian. 19th-century gentleman in a former life.