Art theories and drawings

There are many ways of apprehending children’s art, many conceptual windows from which artwork can be viewed.

I re-read  Betty Joe Troeger’s(1992) article : Application of child art theories to the interpretation of children’s art (in AT: JAATA).  The paper is an overview of theories used to interpret children’s drawings. She lists nine influential theories informed by art education, psychoanalysis, gestalt, developmental and cognitive psychology. These are:

  • naive realism (McFee, 1961);
  • recapitulation (Kellogg, 1969) informed by Jung;
  • personality (Clarke, 1979) informed by Freudian concepts of unconscious;
  • developmental (Piaget, 1971) based on stage theory;
  • intellectualist (Harris, 1963) informed by cognitive development and cultural influence;
  • haptic-visual (Lowenfeld, 1978) internal and external cues to expression;
  • perceptual developmental (Arnheim, 1974) gestalt influences;
  • perception-delineation model (King, McFee) psychocultural  influences;
  • author’s synthesis, art as an expressive mode of knowing and symbol system.

The general consensus regarding the purpose of art making in children has changed over the years. In the 19th century, drawing development was thought to unfold naturally and was not to be interfered with. The beginning of the 20th century emphasized global self-development through art; children apprehended and made sense of the world through their art making; Art-making was a form of symbolic speech « a silent language that embodies thinking » (Ring, 2001). Mid 20th century children art making was understood according to stages in cognitive development; drawing was all about encoding the shape of things around as a means of knowing the world (Matthew,1986). Lowenfeld and Brittain established stages that began with scribbling and ended in realistic drawing towards adolescence. The stages were based on Piaget’s linear model of development. Drawing development was thought to be universal in all children.

This very popular model was often understood as a ‘deficit model’ presenting children as ‘not yet competent’ mark makers, their fine motor skills still not fully developed. Matthew believed « As a consequence of this serious devaluation, an entire aspect of symbolisation has been neglected » (p13).

Subsequent research has refuted the linear direction of artistic development and replaced stages and single endpoints (Golomb, 1994; Kindler & Darras, 1994,1997; Pariser, 1997; Wolf, 1994; Wilson & Perry, 1988) with systems and repertoires (In Kindler, 2003). Realistic depiction of the world was not the culmination of development but just one of the avenues of development.  Wolf & Perry talked about:

  • early visual-spacial display’s that are not yet graphic meaning they do not aim to represent but are simply kinesthetic motor displays.
  • In object-based representations (between 12-24 months) the child treats paper and markers for example as any other items in their play. Paper can be rolled with the marker in it to produce hot dogs (p.20);
  • Gestural representations appear in the 2nd year where marks can be a bunny hopping over the page or tire tracks when they tell a car story (Matthews (1986) calls these ‘action representations’ (p.14));
  • point plot representations are the first attempts at representing the outside world around 20 months. This is where a child marks location of what is seen in the world around them (slashes for arms, legs, head );
  • after the third birthday is the beginning of look a like pictures and the onset of representational drawings. (p.21).
  • Between five and seven, placement in space informs the drawing system with near/far, overlaps and left-right considerations. The authors postulate that these systems develop more or less in parallel and continue to evolve as a growing vocabulary of drawing.

Howard Gardner a psychologist significantly influenced thinking with his research on multiples intelligences; while studies of drawing development in other cultures began to question some of the universality of initial claims. From 0 to 3, development is similar. It is when children begin to socialize in the outside world that effects of culture are most strongly felt.  Consensus is now based on the fact drawing development progresses from the simple to the complex, not towards realism necessarily. Toku (2002), researching Japanese children’s drawings documented four socio-cultural factors that influence drawing:

  1. the educational factor (formal learning of drawing)
  2. the environmental factor (influences that facilitate or hinder)
  3. traditional aesthetics (cultural factors)
  4. and popular culture

In her comparative study with American children, Toku could not avoid noticing the prominent influence of Mangas on figure drawings (big eyes, slender bodies, nose as dot) in her Japanese sample.  What has yet to be fully documented are the influences of globalization on all cultures. In my own practice these days I’m noticing a decline of drawing. We use to believe drawing was a basic and widespread activity that was part of normal and healthy development. No more. What I am seeing are too many children who have no interest in drawing, or drawing materials often preferring the immediate gratification of animated games on their play screens.

Phil Pearson (2001) states:

« The history is important… there is no agreement about the nature of children’s drawing in contemporary theory. Drawing is thought of as a natural part of human biology or as a constructed part of human cultures or as some combination of both. (Studies in Art Education, p.350).

He goes on to argue that drawing is not innate, but instead is a learned social practice that serves many purposes other than represent and make sense of the world ; and finally that not all children draw.

In summary what becomes clear are the influences of our frames of reference on what we see or don’t see in the art of children and how we understand the presence or absence of what is considered ‘natural’ behavior.

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Catégorisé dans Thérapie.

Publié le 11 oct 2009

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